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Board cool to paying for school road costs

If the Hillsborough School Board is going to build a bunch of schools with money from a proposed new sales tax, it should supply the streets and sewers for them, too.

That is the logic of Hillsborough Commission Chairman Jim Norman, who sent a letter to the School Board chairman last week suggesting the school system should pick up what is traditionally a county government tab.

Norman denied Tuesday he was trying to kill the School Board's building plan.

"I just think it's my responsibility to make sure we don't get swept up in millions of dollars of extra costs," he said.

But the initial response of school officials to Norman's idea was cool.

"We have promised the community we would use the money for school construction and technology," said School Board Vice Chairman Doris Ross Reddick. Public works "is not what we're promising."

"The responsibility of the School Board is to build schools and maintain schools," said Deputy Superintendent Pete B. Davidsen. "We don't have enough money allocated to us to do that. That's the reason we are seeking the extra half-cent sales tax.

"We have 1,600 portable classrooms," Davidsen said. "Quite frankly, we don't have the money to build the schools we need, much less the sidewalks and roads. Our feeling is, it's our responsibility to provide school buildings. The city or county, depending on where the school is, provides those other improvements."

Under the present plan, voters will decided in September whether to pay an additional half-cent in sales tax for 12 years. The $720-million raised would be used to build and renovate schools throughout the county, as well as pay for additional technology in school programs.

At the same time, voters will decide whether to pay an additional half-cent for three years for a package of county and city law enforcement projects.

If both increases pass, Hillsborough County's sales tax would rise from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent.

Norman said Tuesday that he is not sure how much additional spending the county would face for the roads, sewers and sidewalks associated with new school construction. His very rough estimate is that the bill might be anywhere from $10-million to $25-million.

Norman wants the County Commission to have its staff develop a precise figure of how much the public works improvements would cost. He said the item would be scheduled for the commission's first regular meeting after its recess, on July 12.

"It's because I don't want the double jeopardy," Norman said. "An increase in the property tax and an increase in the sales tax."