Manatee seeks community opinion on federally funded projects

Special to the HeraldDecember 6, 2012 

MANATEE -- County officials want to know how the public feels about how it spent $1.4 million in federal funds on projects such as the Lincoln Park Splash Park and transportation assistance to Meals on Wheels.

The federal government each year distributes Community Development Block Grants, or CDBGs, to Manatee County based on the need for housing-type projects and other programs in low-income neighborhoods. The projects are chosen based on applications submitted each year.

In 2011-2012, the county used CDBGs to finish the Lincoln Park Splash Park; provide Meals on Wheels Plus a 12-passenger bus to transport its clients; gave 18 local income-qualified families the opportunity to become homeowners in the Hope Landing Subdivision through Habitat of Humanity; and completed a sidewalk project at Samoset Elementary School.

"I was quite pleased in this last year, we completed two very large multiyear projects -- Lincoln Park Splash Park and a sidewalk at Samoset Elementary School," said Suzie Dobbs, community development manager for Manatee County. "We discussed both projects over several years and to see it finally be constructed and opened is the biggest accomplishment so far since I've been the manager of the division."

Pat Stream, principal at Samoset Elementary, was a part of the original conversation some 10 years ago. "We proposed our needs to the county and we were approved for many things, including sidewalks."

"The community was very excited when the sidewalks were put in," said Stream. "It was a long time coming. The streets are very narrow and sometimes the children were walking in the road. We really needed sidewalks. We just wanted our kids to be safe."

Haskell Gates, vice president and chief financial officer of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, believes the grant money has helped to fill a void that existed in the community.

"Manatee County Area Transit has scaled back over the past years and providing the 12-passenger bus to our seniors is critical," Gates said.

"The bus increased our infrastructure so we could cover our operational costs, but the bus made a lot more trips possible. Without it, we wouldn't have the capacity to do the trips we are doing," Gates said.

Now that the money has been spent, the community is being invited to view the Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report (CAPER) and submit comments on how the grants were used.

"This report is another chance for people to give us input on whether the projects we completed served in the capacity they were designed to serve for," said Bill O'Shea, community development project manager for Manatee County.

The document can be found on the Manatee County website or at five county libraries during operating hours.

To submit comments, write Suzie Dobbs, community development manager, Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department, 1112 Manatee Ave. W. Bradenton; or suzie.dobbs@mymanatee.org.

Comments will be accept until 5 p.m. Dec. 12.

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