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Times editorial

Plan for Pasco road projects sounds great, but iffy

There might be a new, $10-million carrot dangling in front of Pasco's county and school district administrators to settle their high-profile disputes over road construction costs tied to new schools.

The only things needed are more detailed language on how the program will work, final votes in the Legislature and approval from the governor, who wants to cut gasoline taxes — the primary source of funding for this new initiative.

In other words, don't count the money just yet.

The dollars are part of the proposed state budget worked out by legislative conference committee. The proposal, from Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is intended to help resolve ongoing arguments over ancillary infrastructure costs associated with school construction.

The money is for a Pasco-specific pilot program because it is one of only five districts that reported a growing student population. However, the arguments extend elsewhere — in Hillsborough, the district is suing the County Commission over the same issue — and it is not unreasonable for other locales to seek similar financial help from the state.

In Pasco, the problem arises from conflicting state laws, escalating construction costs and a change in demographics requiring new schools in former retirement havens of west Pasco. Building in already developed areas means fewer school impact fee dollars available to offset construction costs.

The relatively minor disagreements in the past over sidewalks or a traffic signal escalated last year when the county and district argued over $4-million worth of road projects for a new high school planned north of State Road 52 near Chicago Avenue in Hudson. The dispute remains unresolved.

Under Fasano's proposal, the county and district would need to agree on the cost to bring a new school into compliance with concurrency laws which require available transportation capacity to handle new traffic from growth. That itself could lead to more dickering over whether proposed road improvements are required for concurrency, or simply for better access to and from the property.

Financing for the program is from the state transportation trust fund, not the sales-tax-driven general revenue fund. Still, it shouldn't be a priority if the state has to make cuts elsewhere in its transportation work program because of revenue shortfalls.

Fasano's proposal comes as school districts face state aid cuts and Pasco schools prepare for as much a $20-million drop in the coming budget year. Setting aside gasoline tax money for public roads to new schools would at least allow the district to spend its capital dollars on classrooms, buses, student computers and other expenses tied to a new school.

It also should give County Administrator John Gallagher and superintendent Heather Fiorentino some common ground: Let the state pick up the check.

Plan for Pasco road projects sounds great, but iffy 04/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 5:49pm]
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