South Manatee County Board: Spend money on crime fighters

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 15, 2014 

The audience at a meeting of the South County Community Redevelopment Area advisory board on Tuesday.SARA KENNEDY/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- South County residents Tuesday voted to hire law enforcement officers to fight crime, rather than take a chance $2.5 million would disappear elsewhere should Manatee County commissioners adopt a new redevelopment plan.

The South County Community Development Area Advisory Board, which is facing dissolution, voted 6-1 to allocate most of its leftover money for additional sheriff's patrols.

"If we can get rid of the drug dealers, it would make a huge difference," said advisory board member David English.

The rest of the money the area has already generated for community redevelopment would go toward more security cameras, new sidewalks and area cleanup, the board decided.

However, county commissioners have the final say.

County officials have proposed a new redevelopment district to encourage private investment and neighborhood improvement in urban core areas. Plans call for disbanding the South County Commu

nity Development Area, as well as a sister body, the 14th Street West Community Redevelopment Area, and the advisory boards overseeing them.

The two districts would be replaced by a much larger, single redevelopment district called the Southwest Area Tax Increment Financing District, incorporating the entire southwest area of the county.

Commissioner Betsy Benac chairs the county Community Redevelopment Agency, which administers programs in the two areas. It could also be dissolved.

"I'm happy to have you bring forward a plan," she told about 40 people at the Oneco Community Center.

Benac, who recently joined a 6-1 commission majority in advancing plans for the new district, assured the South County board commissioners have no intention of spending the money on anything but projects within the redevelopment area's original boundaries.

Commissioner Michael Gallen said he voted with the majority recently, but would not support the new district in the future unless "it was written in stone" that South County money would be spent in South County.

The lone vote against the plan to spend the money on public safety projects was cast by John Soloman, who said he still hoped for construction of a community center on 4.1 acres at 63rd Avenue and Ninth Street across from Pride Park. After years of trying, however, there is still not enough money to build the community center and operate it.

Audience member Remonia Lewis said she was 74 years old, and complained new sidewalks long planned in the neighborhood had not been built.

"You're not doing very much," she said. "People want to see action."

She added: "I don't want to be 90 before I see sidewalks."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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