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Schools

Court could hear impact dispute

By LETITIA STEIN
Published June 7, 2007


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TAMPA - When a new school opens, who pays for the traffic jam up the road?

The Hillsborough County Commission and School Board appear headed to court for answers.

The dispute, which both sides call friendly, centers on the millions of dollars needed to install sidewalks, traffic signals, turn lanes and other improvements around new campuses.

School officials say the county has begun forcing more of the financial burden on the district, particularly at new high schools planned in the Lutz area and east Hillsborough. They dispute the idea that twice-daily school comings and goings should be called traffic jams. State law is vague enough that both sides come to different conclusions. If unresolved, the issue threatens to stall the building of schools.

"To the extent the county makes us do something that by law we don't think we can pay for, then absolutely it can delay construction, " School Board attorney Tom Gonzalez said.

The county begs to differ.

"We believe that the court will say the School Board has to contribute to those offsite infrastructure improvements, " County Attorney Renee Lee said.

A request to seek court intervention comes before the School Board on Tuesday night. Lee said a similar appeal will go to the County Commission at its next meeting in two weeks.

Gonzalez hopes a quick ruling will determine what the school district can and can't pay for but not delay current projects.

In the meantime, County Commissioner Jim Norman proposed Wednesday exploring "creative ways" to pay for such expenses as the county braces for budget cuts in the face of property tax reform. For instance, he said, perhaps the county could pay for the improvements with money raised from impact fees.

"We can't continue to do a lot of these multimillion dollar things, " Norman said.

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400.

[Last modified June 7, 2007, 01:14:58]


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