MANATEE -- Agnes Brooks, who has lived in Rubonia for 67 years, said Tuesday's meeting was the first time she saw Manatee County commissioners "do care about Rubonia."
"This is the first time I thought you cared about Rubonia," the 83-year-old told commissioners. "Let us work together and get our community center and everything back in order so we can live happily ever after."
Brooks joined other Rubonia residents at the meeting as commissioners voted to proceed with a neighborhood action plan as a way for Rubonia to become eligible for federal Community Development Block Grant funding.
Residents in this neighborhood off U.S. 41 between Palmetto and Interstate 275 say Rubonia has long been neglected by the county, with its lack of sidewalks, ditches and shuttered community center.
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Wade Trim, the county's CDBG consulting firm, will conduct the neighborhood action plan and evaluate the findings to determine if Rubonia meets the state definition of a blighted area. The $21,500 study will take four months.
"It can begin immediately," said Cheri Coryea, county Neighborhood Services Department director. "They are ready to hit the ground running."
Rubonia Community Association Chairwoman Mary Brown told commissioners they aren't going to give up.
"We are not going to give up, and Rubonia is not going to die," she said. "We are going to be standing and we are going to stand. We will get the job done. ... Without the survey, there is a need in Rubonia. We have stressed that."
As part of the study, Rubonia residents will be surveyed. Commissioner Larry Bustle, who represents Rubonia, said he would strongly suggest Trim arrange a community meeting at the beginning of the process.
"Wade Trim can convince them of the extreme importance of their participation and cooperation in gathering the data," Bustle said. "If we can gather the data properly, then the chances of getting the CDBG dollars is greatly enhanced."
The lack of responses from Rubonia residents to the 2010 census, along with increased development of mobile home parks around the Rubonia area, made the area ineligible for federal community development funds.
Commissioner John Chappie echoed Bustle's emphasis on the importance of the community's participation.
"The community has to be the focal point," Chappie said. "Everybody has to participate in this process."
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh applauded the Rubonia community for attending Tuesday's meeting.
"It is about community," she said. "It's about communication. It's about working together. ... It shows that you want things to change."
Rubonia resident Morris Goff said they have to do something about the lack of sidewalks, drainage improvements, ditches, mosquitoes and social services. New Path Academy's proposal to acquire and operate the closed Rubonia Community Center is scheduled to go before the commission Jan. 26.
"When that group comes out to do their study, I am hoping that they will engage the community," he said. "You've got to talk to the people. The people have to understand that community development requires patience and flexibility."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.