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Growth, school lands should be focus of governments' meeting

It won't measure up to the peace talks in the Mideast or Paris, but Monday's gathering of the Hernando County School Board, the County Commission and the Brooksville Council is nonetheless momentous.

After years of half-hearted promises and platitudes from members _ past and present _ of all three governing bodies, this will be the first time all have convened in one room. (Please resist the joke about all that hot air raising the roof.)

There is only one item on the agenda for the 1:30 p.m. meeting, which will be televised live on HITV (Channel 14 on Bright House cable network): The placement of schools and the infrastructure that surrounds them.

Although there are other shared issues the boards and council should explore, growth-related topics clearly belong at the top of the list.

Perhaps the most pressing need, at least from the School Board's perspective, is for the county to require developers to donate land for schools. In the alternative, the school district is entitled to payments in lieu of impact fees from developers who would find it more lucrative to build houses on land that otherwise would host a school.

However, with the the price of real estate soaring in the county, and the scarcity of tracts large enough to accommodate a campus, the School Board may find the land a better value than the cash, especially if the increases in education impact fees do not keep pace with the actual cost of improvements.

The school district and the county also need to reach an agreement about the requirement that a school must be connected to a collector road to handle the additional traffic. That issue was at the forefront of a conflict between the boards in 2003, when the commission denied a proposal to build a neighborhood school on a 38-acre site on Deer Street in Spring Hill. The boards need to work out their differences on that issue before plans can advance for property the School Board has purchased off Landover Boulevard in Spring Hill, northwest of the theater at Springstead High School.

In addition, the School Board would like to work a deal with the county to pay for installing sidewalks on the roads that lead to the new schools it plans to build during the next decade.

The School Board needs similar cooperation from the Brooksville Council, which has annexed so much land in the past couple of years that the city's population will double once people move into the thousands of houses planned for the developments.

Those topics should keep the three groups of elected representatives busy on Monday. But if there is a lull in the proceedings, here are a few more items to keep the conversation lively.

Sharing use of recreational facilities, namely gymnasiums, basketball courts and ball fields. The governments need to get past the security and liability issues that are usually thrown up as roadblocks to an idea that makes good sense to taxpayers who are footing the bill for multiple facilities that sometimes are near each other.

Pooling their purchasing power. This idea had some momentum back in the mid-1990s, but never really went beyond the research stage. The School Board and the commission, in particular, probably could save a bundle of money if they bulk-ordered vehicles, fuel, paper products, furniture and computers.

How about the City Council working with the school district and the Tourist Development Council to help steer visitors downtown? Students could create displays, artwork and signage that would alert motorists and pedestrians to events and points of interest. Perhaps there are modest stipends available for students, who could do anything from developing advertising and marketing campaigns to answering telephones and acting as tour guides. At the same time the students are learning life skills, they would learn more about their community's heritage.

If the council, commission and school board don't have time for those topics Monday, they can tackle them at the next meeting, which they should schedule before adjourning Monday.

Better cooperation among the county's three governments: It's been a feel-good catch-phrase for many politicians for many years. Maybe now we have the right mix _ of people and circumstances _ for something to actually come of it.

Reach Jeff Webb at webbsptimes.com, or (352) 754-6123.

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