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New health facility tops list

Hernando legislators want $11-million from the state including $5.8-million to upgrade the facility in Spring Hill.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


Drive by the Hernando County Health Department office on Forest Oaks Boulevard in Spring Hill and you'll see a line of people waiting for services that sometimes stretches out the door.

Even in bad weather.

County officials worry the space crunch will only get worse with a population boom expected to follow the opening of the Suncoast Parkway. With that in mind, they have asked the state for help.

State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite and state Rep. David Russell have submitted requests for millions of dollars' worth of projects they hope will be included in this year's budget, among them, $5.8-million to build a new Health Department facility in Spring Hill.

The request for money for the Health Department building as well as other projects marks the beginning of one part of the legislative session: the lawmakers' annual attempt to bring money -- commonly called pork -- to their home districts.

For the past two years, Gov. Jeb Bush made good on promises to limit such projects, and anticipated budget shortfalls this year mean many requests will likely be cut, Brown-Waite and Russell said.

Both lawmakers agree the Health Department project is a long shot, likely to earn a veto from Bush.

"There's a tremendous deficit in Medicaid that we're working to shore up," said Russell, R-Brooksville. "I don't hold out a tremendous amount of hope for it."

Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, said the fact that the county got a new Health Department building in Brooksville just eight years ago will likely translate to a low priority for the state to finance a new one in Spring Hill.

But it doesn't hurt to ask, Russell said. "If you don't ask for these things, you just don't get them."

Russell said he was far less conservative on budget requests this year than in the past: his requests for Hernando County top $11-million, roughly the same amount he sought last year in total for all the counties he represents.

"I don't see where the conservative approach worked any better than the not-so-conservative approach," said Russell, who represents most of Hernando, as well as parts of Pasco, Sumter, Lake and Polk counties. "Hence, we've taken on more projects of greater scope."

Brown-Waite's requests for Hernando County add up to about $11.5-million, with the total for her home counties coming in at roughly $18.5-million.

"I'm an equal opportunity beggar," said Brown-Waite, whose district covers all of Hernando and Sumter counties, east Pasco County and part of Polk County. "I beg for them all."

Both lawmakers are seeking more than $2-million to refurbish water lines, sewer lines and improve the traffic patterns in downtown Brooksville.

Brown-Waite said $1.3-million for citywide sewer line upgrades stands a good chance of getting funded, because the project is ongoing from last year.

"Traditionally, they don't just abandon a project after putting a half a million into it," she said.

Likewise, Brown-Waite was optimistic about money for the traffic pattern improvements, but she said the water line project might have to depend on money left over from last year's budget.

"There are so many downtown improvements that are seeking assistance," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised if none of them were funded."

Also questionable are the lawmakers' requests for $750,000 for a water and sewer project at Hill 'n Dale and $1-million to install sewer lines at Pine Island and Bayport.

"It's a very competitive situation for the new programs," Brown-Waite said. "Those that were funded last year will most likely continue. Those that weren't are facing rough sledding."

She said a $95,000 request for the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County would likely be granted, along with $80,000 to step up security at Brooksville Elementary School. Brown-Waite was less sure of $50,000 requested for a physical education program at West Hernando Middle School called, "From Mountain Peaks to Mountain Bikes."

Another tough sell, both lawmakers say, will be the $650,000 they sought to renovate and upgrade the Hernando County Fairgrounds. The funding has been vetoed twice, Russell said, but he added that this year it might stand a better chance, because the state Department of Agriculture backs the project.

For now, Russell said: "We have our fingers crossed. There's a heck of shortfall and a lot of deserving programs out there."

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