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  1. Hernando

State budget: Hernando County school appropriations perish as airport projects survive DeSantis' veto pen

Flight student taxis on the runway at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. LUIS SANTANA | Times
Published Jun. 21

BROOKSVILLE — Gov. Ron DeSantis wielded his budget veto pen Friday and cut two million-dollar school projects in Hernando County from the state Legislature's budget, including a new vocational education building, as well as $325,000 for new equipment for the Brooksville Fire Department.

Two major local projects that survived his veto pen are both located at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

Hernando County got $3 million of the $5 million requested to expand the water reclamation facility at the airport.

"Weeki Wachee Springs is an Outstanding Florida Spring and also one of the main attractions for tourism in Hernando County,'' Hernando officials wrote in their pitch for the funding. "It is impaired with nitrates and is experiencing accelerated algae growth, which is causing adverse impacts to the delicate aquatic ecosystem.''

One of the largest contributors to the problem is the outdated Spring Hill wastewater treatment plant on Osowaw Boulevard. Officials said the funding would allow the county to expand its airport plant and take the Spring Hill facility off-line, a project that has been talked about for several years.

Hernando County also will get $4 million for the design and construction of a 1,000-foot extension of the airport runway, taking it from roughly 7,000 feet to 8,000 feet.

During the recent master planning for the airport, officials determined that "due to the high volume of the on-demand air ambulance and aircraft repair businesses that are based at BKV (the Brooksville airport), they are flying to destinations throughout the world and may operate in a higher payload range. These types of aircraft often require additional runway length,'' according to the funding request form.

DeSantis vetoed both of the major appropriations proposed for Hernando County schools.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, had requested $1.7 million for architectural and engineering work to design a vocational education building to house high school and adult-education programs; the Legislature decided to allocate $1 million of that, which DeSantis vetoed.

School Board member Jimmy Lodato, a vocal proponent of the vocational education project, said he found the governor's veto surprising and frustrating.

"He tells everybody he wants to have vocational schools, and then he turns my vocational school down?" Lodato said. "That's beautiful."

DeSantis also vetoed a $1 million appropriation to the Hernando County School District for school security improvements. Sunrise Consulting lobbyist Shawn Foster — who lobbies for the School District, Hernando County and the city of Brooksville — said he sees that as the most significant of DeSantis' three Hernando County vetoes, noting school officials' desire to bring school security features in line with state standards.

This year's statewide school security bill, SB 7030, was signed by DeSantis in May and includes some additional school safety funding. Foster said he didn't know if that had any bearing on DeSantis' decision to deny Hernando County's specific request.

The subject is likely to come up in Tuesday's School Board workshop, which is set to include updates on this year's school security measures and planning for how to move forward in meeting state school safety requirements.

Officials with the city of Brooksville also had been hopeful of some help from the Legislature.

In the days before funding requests were due, Foster urged Brooksville officials to ask for money for needed fire department expenditures. The Legislature approved $325,000 in funding for the city to replace its 19-year-old LaFrance fire truck, in addition to buying a self-contained breathing air compressor.

The governor's office told Foster that DeSantis was prioritizing "fiscally restrained counties" — rural areas with financial hardships or low tax-bases, per state statute — for such appropriations, the lobbyist said Friday, and that Hernando County didn't meet those qualifications, even though the request was for the city of Brooksville, not the county.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434. Contact Jack Evans at jevans@tampabay.com. Follow @JackHEvans.

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