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Veto sinks $5-million for dredging
Long-awaited work on Hernando Beach's boating channel could be further delayed.
By DAN DEWITT
Published May 25, 2007
In his first chance to cut so-called turkeys from the state budget, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday eliminated money to help dredge the Hernando Beach boating channel but spared a $600, 000 appropriation for a senior activity center that will double as a disaster shelter for disabled residents.
County officials worried Crist's veto of $5-million for dredging operations could further delay work on the Hernando Beach channel, which was scheduled to begin this summer, nearly 14 years after it was originally proposed.
But state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the state has plenty of money to pay for its share of the job.
The Legislature has previously approved $14.4-million for dredging small ports, Fasano said. The state Department of Transportation has committed to spending only $5-million of this amount, including $2.5-million previously dedicated to the Hernando Beach channel.
"I feel confident that the money is there in both programs to cover what the county is going to need, " Fasano said. "They need to apply for it."
Though the governor's office did not tell him why Crist vetoed the additional money, Fasano said, "He may have looked and seen that we've already appropriated $14.4-million."
But Gregg Sutton, the assistant county engineer and dredge's project manager, said the county had been depending on receiving about half of the $5-million appropriation. Along with $2.8-million the county has set aside for the project, and the previous state contribution, that would have given the county enough money to at least start work on the $9-million project.
"We were obviously hoping for and counting on" the additional money, Sutton said. Without it, he didn't know whether the project would be delayed.
"I wouldn't want to venture a guess, " he said.
The $600, 000 appropriation that did pass gives new life to another long-delayed project, a new building for Hernando County Enrichment Centers Inc.
It will be built on the grounds of Oak Hill Hospital with a series of concrete pods designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, said Nick Morana, the chairman of the Enrichment Centers board.
Besides providing senior citizens with a place to line dance, play dominos and participate in other activities the organization offers, Morana said, it will give the county an emergency shelter for residents with special medical needs.
The organization already had collected more than $1.5-million in pledges or contributions from private and public sources, said Joe Mason, a Brooksville lawyer who has represented the Centers.
The money from the state "provides the last piece of the puzzle, " he said, and should allow the center to buy nearly 20 of the pods.
Mason's total included $400, 000 from the county, which has already put $100, 000 toward the project.
But that money is now in a reserve fund, and Commission chairman Jeff Stabins said he has no intention of spending it on the shelter.
"There is no money in the current budget for the enrichment center, and I have no idea where it would come from, " Stabins said.