The historic Rubonia community deserves more from Manatee County than acknowledgement the neighborhood faces challenges. Resident concerns should no longer be shunted aside with the usual political answer that the county bank account is bare.
Their patience is rightly stretched thin after years and years of beseeching county commissioners and government for improvements and getting little of significance. Street repaving doesn't qualify.
The Herald's Manatee County government reporter, Claire Aronson, chronicled Rubonia's long-suffering plight on Sunday. Frustrated community leaders are now considering a march to shine a spotlight on their message of county neglect.
Frankly, a rally in front of the county offices in downtown Bradenton on the day of a commission meeting might gain just as much attention. The next one is scheduled for May 19.
This mostly poor minority community north of Palmetto has been marginalized too long. Neighborhood leaders are not asking government for luxuries, just some basic services.
Ditches line the streets in front of homes. Pedestrians walk along narrow streets, not on sidewalks but next to open stormwater drainage ditches, often with standing water that serves as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Would that be acceptable anywhere else?
While Rubonia cannot escape flooding issues due to its low-lying topography that's also susceptible to tidal action from Terra Ceia Bay, open ditches are a poor excuse for drainage infrastructure.
Are a piped stormwater system and retention ponds simply too expensive for a small neighborhood of taxpayers?
A unique neighborhood
Rubonia is perhaps best known throughout Manatee County as the host of a very popular annual Mardi Gras Parade, canceled this year due to a lack of sponsorship funding. This February's edition would have been the 36th, had it happened.
Thousands of people have enjoyed this lively day-long festival of entertainment, food and a parade with dozens of entries -- an estimated 15,000 last year with plenty coming from outside Manatee County.
Community support is essential to the celebration's return next year, and county tourism tax dollars, spent on other big events, should be in the mix.
The county-owned Rubonia Community Center, once a vital hub of neighborhood activity, especially for youth, stands shuttered for a lack of money for programs. The doors closed two years ago.
The obstacle to reopening is also money -- an estimated $180,000 in repairs. Then a reliable organization would need to step up, lease the facility and provide the neighborhood with attractive programs.
The pivotal question, though, is can a small community of around 400 homes generate enough support to keep a community center viable?
Or will public and private assistance be the key? This looks like the mostly likely solution since the Rubonia population is small.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker indicated in January that a potential community center operator must step up first before he recommends spending on renovations. The issue merits consideration from county organizations.
County Commissioner Charles B. Smith, a November newcomer to the dais and a welcome voice on the board, grew up in this community. He's heard the voices of the underserved residents. His urban Palmetto-Bradenton district abuts Rubonia, which is represented by Commissioner Larry Bustle.
The two should leverage the county into action. Manatee County administrators are now developing the budget for fiscal 2015-2016.
As Aronson reported Sunday, the budget recommendation currently contains nothing for Rubonia. Pessimistic community residents expected this with history as their guide.
But Smith and Bustle can reverse this. Rubonia improvements should be up for discussion. Residents are not asking for "lavish things," as one told Aronson, just "the basics." Those voices deserve the county's full attention.