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Vincent Academy, Pace Center for Girls among state budget winners in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — Gov. Rick Scott has made his state budget veto decisions, and several Hernando County projects — including the Vincent Academy of the Adventure Coast and the PACE Center for Girls — held on to their funding.

Also funded was a new testing lab for Hernando County Mosquito Control and dollars for the first phases of tackling the complex problems of degradation on the Weeki Wachee River.

Lost to vetoes were funds for both the Life Skills Center planned at the Arc Nature Coast and the flood mitigation project near Horse Lake in Brooksville.

“The budget represents wins for the county in multiple areas,” said state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill. “It would have been nice if we’d gotten everything we asked for and had it funded especially the Arc project, but, at the end of the day, we should be happy with the projects that we got.”

The largest project was the PACE Center for Girls, an expansion of a program that is already in place in 19 other locations in Florida. PACE was awarded $1.4 million and plans to open a year-round school at 5400 Pinehurst Drive in Spring Hill, near the intersection of U.S. 19 and Spring Hill Drive. The school, which officials hope to open at the beginning of 2018, would provide core classes for approximately 50 girls who are at risk of dropping out of school or entering the juvenile justice system.

In addition to classes, the school will provide social services support and counselors, according to Mary Marx, the president and chief executive officer for the statewide program, which currently serves approximately 3,000 girls. PACE has been working with the Hernando County School District and the court system to prepare for the opening of the school.

A $1 million allocation was awarded to the Vincent Academy of the Adventure Coast, which will allow the construction of a facility on 8 acres donated by Hernando County beside the Health Department building on Forest Oaks Boulevard in Spring Hill. This week, the program, which provides services for those with mental illnesses, opened temporary quarters on Forest Oaks in space that previously housed the county utilities office, according to David Lambert, president of the board of NAMI Hernando.

Programs will begin with small classes in technology, computer skills, literacy and culinary arts. The new 13,000-square-foot building will house both the academy and NAMI Hernando headquarters. Construction is expected to begin later this year.

Last year, the project received a $250,000 state allocation. But without being able to use the money for construction or having a program site, those funds were rolled over and into the new budget, Lambert said. State Sen. Wilton Simpson has been a strong supporter of the program.

“We’re very grateful to the senator and the governor for this,” Lambert said. “This has been a great blessing.”

Also avoiding veto was an initial $400,000 to begin work on permitting and design for improvements on the Weeki Wachee River. There has been a strong public push for funding to address a variety of river issues, including sedimentation, overcrowding and nutrient loading. After sitting through a packed town hall meeting on the topic last year, Simpson put together a task force of state agency officials to find ways to address the issues.

Hernando County’s mosquito control operation will also see the benefit of state dollars. It will receive $75,000 for an enhanced surveillance lab to test mosquitoes for viruses that threaten local residents and animals. The equipment that will be purchased will allow such testing for the first time, said Sandra Fisher-Grainger, mosquito control director.

Construction of the proposed Life Skills Center at Neff Lake for the Arc of the Nature Coast were dashed when the governor vetoed $425,000 for the project. Mark Barry, Arc’s executive director, said having the funding make it into the budget this year, then having it vetoed was especially difficult.

This is the third time the organization has sought state funding for development at its Neff Lake campus. The fourth of four residential units is under construction on the property, and the Life Skills Center was to be the capstone. But Barry said the organization won’t give up easily since the needs are so great, and he said he appreciates the support of Ingoglia and Simpson.

“As long as our local delegation continues to support the program,” the work to make it happen will continue, he said. “We’re patient, and we’re persistent.”

Brooksville’s Horselake Creek Southeastern Branch drainage restoration project also fell to the veto pen of the governor. That work was slated for a $350,000 allocation, which the city can ill afford from any of its other revenue sources, said Richard Radacky, public works director.

The project would have allowed the city to route water that now floods residences and roadways in downpours through a natural path to Bonnie Lake, then Horse Lake and finally to Peck Sink.

Radacky said the work is needed and he was sorry the funding was cut.

“I hate it,” he said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Vincent Academy, Pace Center for Girls among state budget winners in Hernando 06/07/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 2:48pm]
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