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Budget plan kind to Pasco schools, FHP

The governor's proposed budget released Thursday contains more than$156-million for Pasco, with nearly all the money devoted to public schools, road improvements and law enforcement.

In short, the governor's budget would give the Florida Highway Patrol what it wanted in Pasco; the schools would get about what they expected, and a few million dollars would pay for some long-anticipated local road projects.

The overall amount proposed for Pasco is up from $127-million last year.

Except for some money that would be divided between Pasco and Pinellas, no new social service programs specifically for Pasco were in the governor's plan, although agencies have made plenty of requests. Now, agencies that hope to get new money from the state will have to go to work at lobbying legislators.

Gov. Bob Martinez's proposed $26.2-billion statewide spending plan is only the first step in the budget process. Now it's up to legislators to react and try to add projects they think deserve state funds.

Martinez's proposal unveiled Thursday simply got the debate started.

"What's in there is kind of expected, but there's a lot that isn't in there," said Rep. John Long, D-Land O'Lakes. "Most of these things are from state-adopted formulas. Obviously, there's no windfall for Pasco in there."

The lion's share of the state money - more than $135-million - would go to the Pasco public school system, which grows by more than a thousand pupils each year.

It's the money for school construction that Pasco school officials keep an eye on, as the district plans to build several schools in the next few years.

"As far as construction, that's about right where we figured," said Chuck Rushe, assistant superintendent in charge of finance for the Pasco schools. "With that, we're still on target with our construction plans."

The amount for school construction - $3.78-million - is a little higher than Pasco officials projected three years ago when they proposed a bond issue for construction money. They had projected Pasco would get about $3.15-million this year.

The money for road projects for Pasco is in line with the state's list of road projects for the next five years. The work planned for U.S. 19 would make the north-south artery a six-lane highway all the way through Pasco. The right-of-way acquisition money for a portion of State Road 52 would move Pasco a step closer to getting some relief on the busy two-lane road.

"That's great news, to get moving on those projects," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "I would've liked to have something for State Road 54 and U.S. 41, but with the gas tax situation as it is (it wasn't expected)."

Actually, Pasco might get some indirect relief along U.S. 41, as

Hillsborough might get money for right-of-way acquisition along N Dale Mabry Highway just south of the Pasco County line. Dale Mabry Highway feeds into U.S. 41 in Pasco.

The Florida Highway Patrol clearly was the big winner in the governor's proposal, which would give it 12 new officers and a permanent station in Pasco.

When Lt. Mark MacKinlay was told of the governor's plan for his department in Pasco, he responded with a long, high-pitched whistle, followed by one enthusiastic word: "Wow."

"I heard it, but I don't believe it," MacKinlay said. "That's what we wanted. It would give us the manpower we need to adequately patrol the roads in Pasco."

The 12 new patrol officers would be added to the 17 officers on the roads now, MacKinlay said. He said the department has been short-handed, with five vacant positions unfilled. He said the new officers would cut down significantly on the time it takes for a patrol officer to respond to the scene of an accident.

The governor's plan also would give the department more than $707,000 to build a new station to replace the double-wide trailer station on State Road 52 near Gowers Corner.


The governor's proposed budget includes the following programs and projects specifically for Pasco County: $495,338 to pay for 12 new officers for the Florida Highway Patrol.

$707,838 for a new permanent Florida Highway Patrol station on State Road 52 near Gowers Corner.

$700,133 for public school maintenance, repair and renovation.

$3.78-million for public school construction.

$135.62-million for public school operations.

$2-million for general maintenance of state roads and bridges.

$4.87-million for right-of-way acquisition for State Road 52 from Hicks Road to Moon Lake Road.

$7.99-million to add lanes and resurface U.S. 19 from north of Fivay Road to the Hernando County line.