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Budget plan has no surprise for Tampa area

Gov. Bob Martinez did not shower excessive gifts or surprises upon hishometown in his proposed $26-billion budget.

The big ticket item for Hillsborough County was $127.6-million for the planned Northwest Expressway, a project that stalled earlier this year because of financial problems.

The money, included in the budget unveiled Thursday, is enough to get the project rolling by funding right of way acquisition for the coming year, said William P. Bissett Jr., former chairman of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority.

But Democratic lawmakers attacked the allocation as little more than a paper gift, since the money would come from the $2-billion turnpike bond expansion plan the Legislature has rejected four times since last spring.

State Rep. Brian Rush, D-Tampa, called the Northwest Expressway money "pie in the sky."

"There is no certainty those bonds will be issued," he said.

Other county road projects financed from other sources, including gas taxes and more likely to be approved include: $8.8-million for widening State Road 60 from east of Interstate 75 to Knights Avenue.

$5-million for widening Hillsborough Avenue from East Double Branch Creek to Pistol Range Road.

In Tampa, road projects included in the governor's spending plan include: $1.3-million to resurface Busch Boulevard from west of Florida Avenue to 56th Street.

$1-million to resurface Interstate 275 from Westshore Boulevard to Himes Avenue.

$5-million to acquire right of way for widening Florida Avenue from Bougainvillea to Fletcher avenues.

"We did expect the current work on Interstate 275 mentioned there, and were aware of the Busch Boulevard resurfacing," said Elton Smith, the city's transportation manager. "We obviously would have liked to have seen a few more of our projects on the list."

For Hillsborough's schools, the proposed budget includes $12.8-million for public school construction and $3.6-million for school maintenance repair and renovation. The bulk of the school system's state financing - $510-million - will go to school operations. School officials said they could not comment on the proposed budget until seeing a breakdown of the allocations.

County officials were glad to see a $15-million grant included in the education portion of the budget to provide half the cost of a $30-million expansion of the Museum of Science and Industry. The rest of the money will be raised locally from museum earnings and private donations.

Historic preservation projects in Tampa also got a boost: $440,000 for the rehabilitation of the old Tampa Bay Hotel, $230,000 for the restoration of the Italian Club in Ybor City and $238,000 for the restoration of three or four historic houses in Tampa Heights.

The budget includes $2.7-million for a Florida Highway Patrol station, $412,782 to hire 10 deputies and $285,000 to operate a new driver's license office.

State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) officials do not yet have exact breakdowns of how much of the department's $1.35-billion budget will be going to District 6, which includes Hillsborough.

Current estimates show $216,900 for seven new employees to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, $677,290 for 22 new protective services employees to work with families in crisis and more than $1-million for various new drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Other allocations include $98,000 for three positions in the county's Guardian Ad Litem program, $217,000 for seven positions in a trial law clerk program, $26,000 for counseling for veterans and $32,000 to hire one person for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Council.

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