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SCHOOL BOARD TO GET SAY IN FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

County commissioners are expected to vote next week on the growth management plan.

For years, the Hernando Schools sat on the receiving end of the county's rampant housing growth.

But soon the School Board will be in a position to have a say in how growth and development happen.

On Tuesday, board members gathered in a joint session with the Hernando County Commission and Brooksville City Council to put the finishing touches on the schools component of the Hernando County Comprehensive Plan.

The County Commission plans to vote next Wednesday to transmit that portion of the plan to the state.

Since 2005, Hernando has been one of a handful of counties on a fast track to develop school concurrency agreements under the Growth Management Reform Act signed into law by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

When that process is finished by next January, county concurrency coordinator Paul Wieczorek said, schools will be in a position to tell developers when they have no capacity for additional housing.

Board member Jim Malcolm was still trying to get his mind around that newfound power Tuesday.

"Can you halt development?" he asked. "Can that occur, where we don't have capacity?"

Wieczorek said the board could do just that - but only if developers are first given options to mitigate their impact by helping to pay for new facilities. If money can't be found for those facilities, he said, "then denial is a possibility."

The school district's staff members have developed a map with 28 "concurrency service areas."

If developers propose construction in any of those areas, the School Board will decide whether there's capacity in the schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels, Wieczorek said.

If district growth projections are right, that power won't come a moment too soon.

Hernando is expecting its student population to grow by more than 900 this fall.

With anticipated 4 percent annual growth, the 23,000-student district could hold more than 40,000 students by 2020, officials said.

Members of the three boards spent much of their time Tuesday discussing that growth, and ways to manage it.

"I've seen situations where developers come in and they dictate to us what they're going to put in," Brooksville Vice Mayor Frankie Burnett said. "We need to change that."

But they also agreed on the need to do a better job of sharing resources in an era of tight budgets, and reached a consensus to direct their staffs to assemble a list of possible items - from purchasing to fuel and transportation fleets - where sharing is possible.

"All of the funds are coming from the taxpayers," said County Commissioner Diane Rowden. "I think if we work on this together, the benefit will be to the taxpayers."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

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