The budget and implementation plan for the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project (RFL-ASAP) has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the site coordinator.
LuAnn Winkle said Thursday that the next step in the $800,000 project will be a large stakeholder group meeting at 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at the Hi-Tec Center in Hillsboro, where steering team reports, research updates and the results of a collaborative survey will lead to a discussion of the next steps in the process.
RFL-ASAP learned last October that it had been awarded the grant from the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to tackle issues at the lake, but its budget and implementation plan had to be approved before the project could begin.
The award was the result of more than 18 months of planning by county stakeholders in partnership with Ohio University, beginning with several meetings involving around 60 local officials, business owners and community leaders. The grant was technically awarded to the Highland County Board of Commissioners, but commissioners have credited Winkle, who is the director of Turning Point Applied Learning Center, for leading the effort that led to the win.
The funding is designed to help communities develop comprehensive strategies that target neighborhoods with hot spots of crime and violence.
Winkle said Thursday that the budget and implementation plan involved “a very strict approval process,” covering a number of specific areas.
She said the crime-fighting component of the plan includes a new sheriff’s substation at Rocky Fork, which Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera is pursuing in partnership with Rockhold Bank, which has a presence at the lake. Plus, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department has donated a cruiser to be used for lake patrols by local sheriff’s deputies designated for lake duty.
Additionally, GIS crime mapping technology will be implemented at the lake, along with the creation of an anonymous tip line.
Another key component will be housing and property projects, including the creation of a land bank, a new entity recently approved by county commissioners which is designed to strengthen land values by returning vacant or abandoned properties to productive use.
Where they have been utilized already, land banks have helped local economies. For example, in Lucas County, which incorporated its land bank in 2010, the land bank took over an abandoned strip mall and turned it into a repurposed office and retail center. It also obtained through foreclosure, donation and negotiation several rundown properties in upper Toledo which resulted in the creation of the Uptown Green, a plaza, garden and small concert venue. The Lucas County land bank has partnered with local hospitals, schools and other entities for many more community improvement projects.
Plus, the county health department is expanding its nuisance abatement program targeting lake area neighborhoods, said Winkle.
Community Action is creating onsite services for lake area clients in regard to its numerous nutrition and family assistance programs.
Winkle said a key component will be choosing a professional economic development consultant to conduct a plan to identify and expand business opportunities at the lake, both for existing and potential businesses to spur the lake economy.
Another goal is exploring the feasibility of a new community center at the lake, something she said has been requested by many lake residents.
Winkle described the project as a “holistic” approach to developing the lake and tackling crime.
She said that between the RFL-ASAP project, a Soil and Water Conservation District grant gained last year through a partnership with ODNR , the City of Hillsboro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Wild Turkey Federation for conservation practices and water quality improvement, and a Healthier Buckeye Council transportation grant, about $2.4 million in grant money is being targeted toward the Rocky Fork Lake region.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected].