Manatee County government has come up with the reasonable solution to a poor neighborhood's longstanding dilemma that they cannot solve for themselves -- they need help.
Hitherto, county policy had been those residents would have had to approve a special assessment to cover infrastructure improvements, those simple things that make a place more livable. Those are community improvements that Rubonia residents have been requesting for years, and that now look achievable.
But not quite yet.
County government deserves credit -- a lot, frankly -- for engaging Rubonia residents in a conversation about developing an action plan. Several community-government meetings have borne fruit; there were not just some perfunctory gatherings to satisfy the citizenry, we hope. Action must result.
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Poor stormwater drainage -- the neighborhood sits only a few feet above sea level and is susceptible to tidal action from nearby Terra Ceia Bay -- and the lack of sidewalks are constant complaints. Instead of sidewalks, runoff ditches line the narrow streets, certainly a public safety issue for children. The reopening of the community center is another bone of contention.
Should the neighborhood qualify for the state definition of a blighted area, federal dollars would flow into projects that would improve this small community north of Palmetto. Wisely, county government funded a study by an independent consultant to engage Rubonia residents and conduct a neighborhood evaluation to offset that census failure. Rubonia residents must help themselves by participating in this process.
Since Manatee County does not charge a stormwater fee, as is common around Florida, Manatee policy puts the burden directly on neighborhood property owners for rain runoff. Would Rubonio residents vote to tax themselves? Not likely.
This is a largely a poor community, one that largely didn't participate in the 2010 census. That meager response -- and the development of nearby mobile home parks -- put Rubonia somewhat outside of eligibility for federal Community Development Block Grant funding for projects. We'll see if that professional study finds otherwise.
That study should reverse that underestimated finding and prove that at least 51 percent of Rubonia residents are low to moderate income. Residents must participate in this in order to qualify for money they would never see to enhance their homes.
Still, a one-size-fits-all Manatee County public policy defeats one of government's primary missions: help those who lack the resources to help themselves.
Rubonia is a historic place that dates back to 1912 when the land was first subdivided. This is a mostly black minority community. That raises a question that few are comfortable with. We should discuss that. If we have the courage to do so.
Yes, many, many other neighborhoods lack sidewalks. Do their kids fall into ditches to jump out of the way of errant drivers?
Why is a black community denied simple public safety things? Let's quit dodging that question. Rubonia residents have been amazingly politically correct and mostly quiet in avoiding that question.
The county appears to get that now. Finally.
Only because there are numerous brave Rubonia residents who have had enough. Enough is enough, after years of inaction.
This is but one simple comment from some Rubonia residents last week at a meeting with county officials and the consultants hired to hear and document their voices, this from Jason Smith:
"The Rubonia neighborhood is a group of very reasonable, very passionate individuals. They are not asking for the world. They are asking for some basic things in their neighborhood to improve their neighborhood."
Yes. And yes again.
To be fair, the county is taking steps to address one neighborhood asset, the Rubonia Community Center, by allocating money for repairs.
Now's the time to step up and make Rubonia a more desirable place to live. Manatee County officials apparently are hearing that message. They get that now, we hope. Commissioner Vanessa Baugh told Rubonia residents this last week, and it best be true: "Rubonia is a priority. We want to take care of them. They deserve it."