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Wanted: Citizen opinion for five-year spending plan

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The choices are wide; the input is yours.

By MELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net

So, how would you, a South County citizen, spend U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money, if you could write the checks distributing your tax dollars in your neck of the woods?

Would you underwrite youth centers or veterans’ facilities or senior gathering sites? Would you focus the funds on streetscaping or public housing? Would you take on mental health care or large water/sewer projects or improved public transportation?

The choices are wide; the input is yours.

And, Hillsborough County wants to know. Why? Because county administrators now are developing the Five Year Consolidated Plan designed to “create a strategic and unified vision for HUD funding” during the fiscal years 2011 through 2016, according to Hillsborough’s Office of Affordable Housing. Such plans have been drafted at regular intervals in recent decades. However, the amount of HUD money to be funneled to the county in this cycle is not yet known.

The process began last week with a public meeting – attended by a mere six Ruskin and Wimauma residents – conducted at the county’s regional services center immediately north of the SunPoint Shopping Center. The session was one of six scheduled around the county during a three-week period, including three this week in sections of Tampa and Plant City. Another is set for Seffner on Monday, (February 28).

 However, anyone in the South County who missed last week’s meeting can complete and submit the same survey used in the sessions and on which the plan is to be based by accessing it online through the affordable housing office website. The address is www.hillsboroughcounty.org/affordablehousingoffice/5yearplan.cfm. In the Google menu, choose the affordable housing section of the county website, then click on “2011-2016 Consolidated Plan Online Survey” and make selections from among the multiple choices in several categories.

The half dozen South County citizens attending the local session contributed a significant though not necessarily completely representative range of views through both survey results and general discussion at the time. For example, the group considering Economic Development Activities gave their highest need ranking to loans and grants encouraging small business development. In the same category, they rated streetscaping for commercial districts as the least critical.

And when it came to public services, they ranked assistance with home ownership as the greatest perceived need while screening for lead-based paint or other lead hazards was seen as the lowest priority. The group also chose spending money on youth centers over putting funds into parking facilities. And, when they reviewed options in the housing category, they zeroed in on tenant-based rental assistance while marking new construction of single family homes as a very moderate need at best.

On the other hand, during open discussion without the confinement on ideas imposed by the multiple choices of the survey, the group pinpointed a large number of South County needs to be addressed. They pointed to over-capacity county recreation centers, to a need for after-school programs and wondered aloud why the vacant “big box store” at U.S. 41 and 19th Street – a former supermarket – was not pulled into public service and adapted for such uses in place of building from the ground up.

They called for traffic calming on U.S. 41 where it bisects communities to reduce its perception as a thoroughfare and restore its function as a “local road..” They emphasized the importance of reliable, sufficient capacity water and sewer lines in order to attract re-development and to support downtown business district renewal, particularly in Ruskin.

Talking over means of bringing employment opportunities closer while preserving their small town lifestyle, the group suggested renewed emphasis on employment training, on establishing local business or economic nodes, on support of the various trade occupations. Nor did they overlook the thorniest of South County housing problems including Chinese drywall contamination and high vacancy-foreclosures rates, calling for preventative actions.

Information gleaned from citizens during the public session discussions and the survey results is to be compiled in the proposed five-year plan, drafted by consultant Wade-Trim, said Karen Collins, senior planner in the county’s affordable housing office. The draft plan is to be presented to Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners in June and, if finalized, become effective on October 1.

Online surveys completed by residents can be added to the working data for another two weeks.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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