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Hernando eyes $14M slice of $74.5B budget pie

BROOKSVILLE — Nearly $14 million in special Hernando County projects have made it into the state Legislature's proposed $74.5 billion budget, which lawmakers will vote on later this week.

If the projects meet the governor's approval, they will benefit economic development and tourism, said Michael McHugh, Hernando County business development manager.

McHugh's top priority on the lawmakers' budget — $1.5 million to begin an adult technical education program in the Hernando County School District.

"This would be huge to our efforts to transform our workforce,'' McHugh said. "It's absolutely foundational for us.''

One worry has been that an adult program would take resources from younger students, he said.

This money "would allow the school system to get it off on a fast track and be sustainable without requiring any support from the school system to take away from K-12,'' McHugh said.

The biggest item on the state's budget is $8 million for the county's portion of the planned Coast-to-Coast Connector. The plan to connect existing walking and biking trails into one 275-mile trail from St. Petersburg to Titusville has been gaining traction among state leaders, said Dennis Dix, Hernando County's transportation coordinator.

In Hernando, the approximately 8-mile connection between the Good Neighbor Trail in Brooksville and the Suncoast Trail is the missing segment. Dix said there is no chosen alignment yet for that trail.

The proposed budget also includes $1.5 million for the Chinsegut Manor House, which the county hopes to see restored and returned to use as a conference center and tourist draw, and $2 million to expand broadband services into areas of the county now under served.

In addition, $750,000 is allocated for parking improvements and storm water projects at Rogers Park. The current lime rock parking lot allows a wash of dust into the river when there are heavy rains, said Brian Malmberg, assistant administrator operations.

McHugh said he is hopeful all projects will remain in the budget.

"It's good stuff. I'm optimistic,'' he said. "I hope that the governor sees the merit of these projects and how they will help our community.''