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Hope and groups fade; government steps in

Published April 18, 2007


The community soul-searching that followed the 2003 shooting death of sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison brought an initial eagerness to assist poverty-riddled Lacoochee. The enthusiasm, however, proved short-lived and it preceded the typical waning interest and then benign neglect.

Within two years, attendance at the Circle of Hope, the group formed to help forge improvements within Lacoochee, dwindled to less than a half-dozen. It eventually stopped meeting. Ditto for the Community Alliance, an ad hoc group focusing on race relations.

Some behind-the-scenes work, however, is emerging via a collaborative effort by the Pasco School District and Pasco County government to bring a $1-million community center to the grounds of Lacoochee Elementary School.

It is a substantial investment following a series of modest improvements - health fairs and neighborhood cleanups -and boastful promises from outside the community to focus on children, commerce and crime.

The county already set aside $150,000 in its current budget and plans to do likewise in the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

A third-year installment of $200,000 is intended to cover half the costs of a community center similar to the county facilities in Odessa, Shady Hills and along U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes.

The Pasco School District plans to foot the other half of the bill and provide the land upon which the building will sit.

Though the two entities have bumped heads in the past over school locations and paying for traffic improvements, they should be commended for the cooperative spirit on this project.

The effort is particularly noteworthy given the current attitude in Tallahassee to limit local government spending.

Lending a helping hand to Lacoochee, and its neighbors in Trilby and Trilacoochee, is imperative, and the county and school district should expedite this assistance if possible.

The project won't be ballfields and a gymnasium - Stanley Park is right across the street.

The community center is to include meeting space, a stage and perhaps a small kitchen to be used by the school during the day and by the community after hours.

It could be used by the Boys & Girls Club, be available to receive and distribute library books, or provide computer space.

Harrison's slaying on June 1, 2003, and the death three weeks earlier of Michael Reed, killed in a car crash while fleeing deputies, sparked a community conversation about the lack of jobs for adults, recreational opportunities for youths and worries about drug dealing in neighborhoods.

More than half the adults in Lacoochee's population of 1,345 lack a high school diploma, and the median household income of $15,000 is less than half the countywide figure.

The new community center and programs at Stanley Park can help keep youths occupied. The county also is seeking a grant in hopes of bringing broadband Internet access to the vicinity to help stir business development.

It is not a solution to Lacoochee's economic woes, but it is a start.

Most of the community's focus this week is the trial of the young man accused of killing Harrison, Alfredie Steele Jr., at the Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.

There should be some comfort that justice is being pursued in other locations.

Kudos to the county and school district for addressing the social inequities highlighted by Lacoochee residents in the aftermath of Harrison's death.

[Last modified April 17, 2007, 23:52:45]

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