Rubonia residents speak out about their community

MANATEE -- Wearing shirts declaring "We're Rubonia We Matter" and "We are the people that matter," Rubonia residents filled the Manatee County Commission chambers Tuesday to express their frustrations.

A closed Rubonia Community Center, a lack of sidewalks and poor drainage are among the concerns Rubonia residents aired before commissioners.

"My plea today is to take a look at Rubonia as a whole," said Mary Brown, Rubonia Community Association chairwoman. "Let's not wipe it out. It's history to Manatee County. Please leave the community center open and take a look at all the needs of Rubonia to make it a vis

ible, viable and healthy area for the people of Manatee County."

Rubonia residents carpooled and took church buses to speak at Tuesday's meeting. The Rubonia neighborhood is off U.S. 41, between Palmetto and Interstate 275.

As a way to find an organization to assume ownership of the Rubonia Community Center, which was closed in 2013, Manatee County is having an Invitation to Negotiate period this summer. On July 9, the county will host a meeting for interested groups to learn more about submitting proposals. After the 1 p.m. meeting in the commission chambers, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., the county will take the group on a visit to the community center. The deadline to submit proposals will be Aug. 20.

"We do want this to be a center for the community," deputy county administrator Karen Windon said. "We want to make sure it is people who love Rubonia who are providing services in Rubonia."

But Rubonia residents are worried about the possible sale of the building, which needs more than $133,300 in repairs.

"If you take the youth center away from us, it is just like taking everything we have been working so hard for our kids for years and years," said Charles Miller Sr., a Rubonia resident. "Reconsider selling the building. Let our community work with the center. ... We've been working hard trying to get our programs ourselves, but we always get the runaround. Please take a look at our center. Please give it back to our community for our kids."

Morris Goff, another Rubonia resident, said the center should remain with the community of Rubonia.

"You don't just bring people into your neighborhood from somewhere else to run your neighborhood," he said.

As the commission is in its 2015-16 budget process, Miller asked commissioners to "reconsider putting Rubonia community in the budget."

"We haven't been in the budget for many years so I'm asking, the community is asking, put us in the 2015-2016 year budget," he said. "Please give Rubonia what they are due, just a little piece of the pie."

Since Commissioner Larry Bustle, who represents Rubonia, is recovering after suffering a minor stroke in early May, commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac will hold a Town Hall meeting at 6 p.m. July 28.

"We now have the opportunity to help out people," Benac said.

Commissioner Charles Smith, who had family in attendance Tuesday, said he was glad Rubonia came up.

"We have to do some soul-searching," Smith said.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh echoed Smith.

"I am glad we are having this conversation," Baugh said. "I don't want to see the community center be taken away from Rubonia. It is Rubonia. It is my hope, and what I am looking for and want to see is a nonprofit that comes in. ...It is important for the whole community.

"We are all more or less on the same page. We want some results for Rubonia. We are all there. We are all on the same page. Something will take place."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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