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Hernando legislative wishlists: Vocational ed, better roads

Local officials’ requests for legislators also include sewer project funding and teacher bonus reforms.

BROOKSVILLE — Earlier this year, the Hernando County School District looked like it could get $1 million from the state to start plotting a $30 million, brick-and-mortar vocational school. Then the project ran into Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto pen.

Since then, the School Board has tried to figure out how to reboot the project, with members butting heads over how it should expand career and technical education. They’ve landed on a plan, and the board will ask lawmakers to put state money toward a less expensive expansion at Central High School that would house several new vocational programs.

That request is part of the board’s legislative platform, a wishlist of appropriations and policy changes that lobbyists will push for in next year’s legislative session, which starts in January. The board set the platform last month, about the same time the Board of County Commissioners and Brooksville City Council decided on their respective wishlists.

The School Board platform didn’t have dollar amounts, but last month its lobbyists said they’d push for $8-10 million in state funding for the vocational expansion, possibly over the course of a couple years. That could cover the entire cost of the project.

It would take the form of a two-story metal building on land owned by the district on the Central High campus. The building would contain six large classrooms for such trades as building technologies and diesel systems, district officials said, plus nine regular-sized classrooms.

The board also will ask for $1.7 million to expand its computer ethernet network, which will support updated security systems, as well as $500,000 for early-literacy programs.

On the policy front, its lobbyists will ask lawmakers to increase the cap on additional millage that school boards can levy. A mill is a unit of property tax measurement equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. The rate is largely set by the state, but the School Board recently has discussed ways to raise it.

They’ll also ask for a change to state teacher bonuses that currently leaves pre-kindergarten teachers out of the running. Superintendent John Stratton criticized those rules earlier this year, after the district was dinged on an audit for giving bonuses to pre-K teachers. Lobbyists also will ask for changes to the formula that determines state funding for busing students to school.

Vowing to improve local transportation and enhance economic development, the Hernando County Commission’s top ask from state lawmakers is a $7.6 million project to improve Anderson Snow Road and Corporate Boulevard. Corporate Boulevard runs through the business park adjacent to the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

The project would add a signal at the intersection and expand Anderson Snow to four lanes from the existing four-lane section to Corporate Boulevard.

The proposal seeks $5.7 million in state funds, which the county would match with $1.9 million.

A related project would extend the other end of Corporate Boulevard to the new Ayers Road extension. The $2 million project would build the first two lanes of an eventual four-lane connector between the roadways. The county would provide $500,000 and ask the state for $1.5 million.

The road projects would attract businesses to the airport industrial park and provide new jobs, county public works director Scott Herring told commissioners last month.

The other big county project would be a $5 million upgrade to the Glen Water Reclamation Facility to reduce the amount of nitrogen it discharges, a requirement under the 2016 Florida Aquifer and Springs Protection Act. The county wants $3 million from the state and would contribute $2 million from utilities funds.

County officials also hope to secure $1.5 million and would contribute another $250,000 for two public-safety radio towers to improve spotty coverage, county public safety director Scott Hechler told commissioners. The towers are necessary for the radio system upgrade that county officials want in the next several years.

The county also is asking for $1.875 million and would contribute $375,000 to remodel and expand Fire Station 2 in Spring Hill, and is seeking $1.6 million and would contribute $437,500 to improve WPA Road in central Hernando. The road often floods, requiring residents to take a 7-mile detour.

County officials also are concerned about any new unfunded requirements by the Legislature, any changes to the law on assessing sinkhole homes and any move to lengthen the amount of time an inmate can stay in jail, which would add to county costs.

The Brooksville City Council’s wishlist for state lawmakers includes:

  • $2.2 million toward a $3.2 million rehabilitation of its sewer system.
  • $150,000 toward a $250,000 reuse water plan for the Cascades residential development.
  • $250,000 toward a $350,000 project to demolish and replace the Lamar Water Plant.
  • and $325,000 toward a $425,000 fire truck replacement.

All three entities, plus other local agencies, will present their requests at a public meeting with area legislators on Nov. 18 at the Hernando County Government Center.