The most specific details yet on how a grant of more than $800,000 will be used to improve the economy and fight crime at Rocky Fork Lake were shared Monday morning at a well-attended meeting of “large stakeholders” at the Hi-Tec Center in Hillsboro.
Community members connected to the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project (RFL-ASAP) heard presentations from key members of the steering team charged with making sure the grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, which was awarded last October, achieves the goals outlined in the initial project proposal.
Site coordinator LuAnn Winkle recapped the progress made so far and described the management plan. Speakers on Thursday offered a detailed look at how they plan to invest grant dollars in their particular areas of assignment.
According to speakers’ remarks and a handout provided to attendees:
• Law enforcement and criminal justice, under the direction of Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, will have $126,515 to spend on a full-time deputy at the lake, integrate GIS crime mapping technology, train 12 deputies in Community Oriented Policing concepts and practices, install an anonymous 411 tip line, and instruct neighborhood residents on the concept of “Crime Prevention by Environmental Design.” As reported previously, a cruiser was donated by Fayette County and office space is being provided for a lake substation by The Rockhold, Brown & Co. Bank
• The housing and property component, in partnership with Jared Warner, the county health commissioner, will see $245,000 spent on developing and implementing a land bank program to remove or remediate 16 blighted and vacant structures, expand health department services to enhance a Nuisance Abatement Program in the target neighborhoods, support local homeowners associations’ efforts to address non-compliance through legal remedies, and conduct an education and outreach campaign to inform residents of the value of zoning and code enforcement.
• A community services program led by Highland County Community Action Organization Director Julia Wise will be allocated $66,000 to provide onsite services such as benefit bank counseling, WIC and SNAP eligibility, summer feeding and senior nutrition, substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling, along with onsite assistance by Ohio Means Jobs to help job seekers through assessment, training and referrals.
• An economic development plan in conjunction with Destiny Bryson, director of the Highland County Visitors Bureau, will spend $94,356 on a specialist who will develop a comprehensive economic development strategy linking development in the lake area to job creation, and see the Rocky Fork Lake Community Alliance and RFL-ASAP stakeholder group continue efforts to partner with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to improve park facilities.
• “Community capacity building,” led by Winkle, will utilize $261,627 on conducting leadership training in the target neighborhoods, conducting a feasibility study for a community center to serve as a permanent site for a variety of activities and even library services, and generally oversee the project and facilitate regular meetings, attend training in land banking, crime prevention and mandatory Justice Department training.
• Solveig Spjeldnes, an associate professor at Ohio University, which has provided research and consulting for the project grant, will use $41,000 to provide professional services to assess the project’s impact.
Speakers on Thursday fielded a variety of questions from audience members, most focused on crime, blighted properties and the challenge of enforcing rules.
During his remarks, Warner, the health commissioner, said part of the challenge at the lake is that “there are no rules out there.” He said a “mindset” needed to be created among lake residents encouraging them to clean up their properties. He said that part of the effort at the lake will be to educate people about zoning, both what it is, and what it is not.
“Everyone in the community should be involved,” he said.
The 16 properties that will be targeted for cleanup through the land bank will be culled from a list of 77 properties previously identified by an Army Corps of Engineers study, and Warner said the land bank board will choose the properties based on a set of standards that will be applied fairly.
Winkle said the Rocky Fork project has been seen as successful enough that local organizers have been asked to serve as mentors for a couple of other communities pursuing similar objectives. She said the next large stakeholders meeting will be held in June at the Overlook Retreat at the lake.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.