Better drainage, sewer, internet coming to Hillsborough Co. thanks to new funding boost

Hillsborough County can start checking off some major infrastructure projects on its to-do list, including drainage and sewer system upgrades, broadband internet, and affordable housing.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners approved using $104-million in federal money, allocated from the American Rescue Plan, to put toward projects the county did not previously have funding to complete.

"This really puts us a foot forward on funding projects that we had already identified as part of the community’s needs," said Harry Cohen, the Hillsborough County Commissioner for District 1.

About $70-million will pay for a septic-to-sewer conversion project which will protect groundwater and eliminate septic tanks around the area.

"In unincorporated Hillsborough County, we have over 26,000 homes that are on septic systems that are old. They need to be put onto the regular sewer system so that we don’t have little tiny environmental accidents occurring all over the county," said Cohen.

The next chunk of $17.5-million goes toward fixing stormwater drainage in spots that often flood.

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"[It’s] not just Palm River but also Progress Village, in the University community area; Wimauma, Balm and then a huge investment in infrastructure in Gibsonton," he said.

Work also includes using $2.835-million to build affordable housing, $3.6-million to update the fire-rescue alert system for emergency calls, $5-million to address food insecurity and installing broadband internet in underserved areas.

"Broadband, we learned during the COVID pandemic how important it is that everyone in our community have access to broadband," said Cohen. "Much of it was in the queue. Some of it were things we were hoping to fund before now but were unable to, so we’re really excited about the fact that we believe we can hit the ground running."

Commissioners said the $104-million for these infrastructure projects is the first installment from the American Rescue Plan. The county also has $35-million in federal money going toward road paving projects, but Cohen said where that money goes in the county won’t be sorted out until the next commission meeting this month.