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Letters to the Editors

Hospital moves have varying impact

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

Editor: It seems HCA plays both sides of the moving controversy. HCA plays loose and free with arguments for and against moving, depending on the market area it is in.

I certainly hope your readers are aware of the controversy in our neighboring county. Community Hospital of New Port Richey, an HCA hospital, wants to move from its present location to Little Road and State Road 54. I have heard quotes that this is a move of 4 to 5 miles; I believe it is a little farther.

Putting it into perspective, the move is disenfranchising a much larger population than the proposed Brooksville Regional Hospital move by Hernando HealthCare.

In the Brooksville move, a majority of the population is going to have easier access to the new site of the hospital, because people are going to be able to bypass downtown Brooksville. If heading from the east, there are fewer traffic lights on State Road 50 bypass, and, therefore, less of a likelihood of getting stalled in traffic.

Now, if we look at the proposed Community Hospital move, there are a lot more traffic lights to navigate. Do you go down U.S. 19 to State Road 54? Do you cross over to Little Road? It is a tough decision an elderly population is going to have to contend with.

The Community Hospital move is away from the established population base of the county and toward new growth (which equates to moving from a low, fixed-income area to a higher-income area). It would be interesting to hear what arguments HCA is using in the Community Hospital move.

In conclusion, we have to understand that, to HCA, it is what is better for them.
-- Steven Beard, Spring Hill

Seeking a tax base to finance education

Editor: Re: Growth and the school crisis.

Recent newspaper articles have highlighted the Hernando County public school crisis of overcrowding and the need for additional schools and the possibility of making Chocachatti Elementary a zoned instead of a magnet school.

Additionally, Nature Coast Technical High School, under construction, has been mentioned as a candidate for mixed use -- a technical magnet school and a zoned school to relieve overcrowding pressures at the high school level.

School system representatives have advised that present enrollment and portable classrooms (both owned and leased) are:

At 10 elementary schools: 8,355 students, 56 portables.

At four middle schools: 4,502 students, 16 portables.

At three high schools: 4,834 students, 45 portables.

This is a subtotal of 17,691 students and 117 portables. There are another 114 students and nine portables in the miscellaneous/special category, for a total of 17,805 students and 126 portables.

Projected enrollment growth for the 2002-03 school year approximates 500 students, equivalent to 18 additional portables at capacity.

The current total of 117 portable classrooms at schools equates to 3,276 students, based upon 28 students per classroom. This approximates a shortage of two to three schools. An addition of 500 more students during the next school year means another half-school shortage.

The completion of the new technical high school for the year 2003-04 provides some relief, but the school shortage problem will persist.

The next elementary school, projected for completion in 2004-05, is plagued by a site selection crisis resulting from skyrocketing land costs. The real culprit appears to be not addressing land acquisition in a timely fashion due to spending tradeoffs necessary to operate the school system.

School officials state that despite the preponderance of portables, each costing $50,000 or more, Tallahassee must approve the addition of each new school. This process does not seem to be able to meet the needs of fast-growing counties.

The average cost to educate a child is about $7,000 per year. Very few families live in housing that produces sufficient taxes to cover the educational cost of a single child.

The proposed Barclay Forge rental apartment complex on Barclay Avenue, composed of 272 units, is not a "school friendly" situation, given the number of multiple-bedroom units. The cost of this project is about $24-million, which would provide school taxes of $237,000. This project has 112 units with three and four bedrooms, which, together with 112 two-bedroom units, could easily house upward of 250 students, which equates to approximately one-fourth of a school. The annual cost of education, based upon $7,000 per student, would be $1,750,000, leaving a net expense of $1,513,000.

The Housing Authority would argue that almost all of the tenants would come from elsewhere in the county. Don't bet on it. If only 50 percent came from outside the county, the net expense would still be substantial.

If this same 31-acre property were used for 78 single-family homes (2.5 houses per acre) valued at $250,000 each and owned by retirees, the school tax revenues would be $193,000 with no offsetting education expenses.

It would seem that the county should be growing by attracting wealthy retirees who would form the tax base necessary to adequately support education.

Adding more children to the school system just digs the hole deeper and makes recovery more difficult, as the millage rate spirals upward, which in turn retards county growth since all classes of population, particularly retirees living on fixed incomes, will avoid the county.

County officials should be active in seeking to make Hernando County attractive to retirees. Hopefully a successful program might be able to restore sufficient tax revenues to provide an outstanding educational system.
-- Robert W. Mackey, Brooksville

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