RFL plan coming together; 90 attend meeting

The Times-Gazette

Approximately 90 residents of Rocky Fork Lake neighborhoods and other regional stakeholders attended a recent two-hour “Town Hall” meeting at the American Vets Hall on North Shore Drive.

The purpose of the meeting was to share the recommendations for the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Plan, and to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the recommendations and express their recommendations for improvement of the RFL area, according to LuAnn Winkle, director of Turning Point Applied Learning Center and the project director.

More than 118 stakeholders have been involved in a planning process since the beginning of October, 2014, funded by the Byrnes Criminal Justice Department. The mission of the project is to develop an evidence-based, data-driven, community-oriented plan to reduce crime, improve public safety, and revitalize targeted neighborhoods of the Rocky Fork Lake area. The goal is to make the RFL area beautiful natural resource in Highland County that is safe and prosperous.

Public input has been sought through focus groups, key informant interviews, feedback at public events, meetings with Home Owner Associations, through Facebook, and quarterly meetings with representatives of the neighborhoods and region. Four work groups have been meeting to identify priorities and strategies in the following four areas: Crime and Safety, Housing and Property Issues, Community Services, and Economic Development.

Ohio University researchers have researched relevant data as well as programs and practices with proven success for addressing problems and needs similar to those identified by the stakeholders.

Planning Facilitator Angela Carl moderated the Town Hall. Five panelists discussed the strategies under consideration to address crime and crime drivers in the RFL neighborhoods targeted in the planning grant. Residents had the opportunity to comment on the practices and ask the panel questions relating to the issues. The panelists included:

• LuAnn Winkle, executive director of Turning Point Applied Learning Center and the project director.

• Shane Wilkin, president of the Highland County Commissioners.

• Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera.

• Jared Warner, Highland County health commissioner.

• Randy Mustard, Paint Township trustee.

Strategies presented included:

Crime Reduction with a focus on Drug Crime

• Community Policing (new substation at RFL, increased patrolling, security cameras).

• Crime Mapping Technology.

Housing and Property Issues

• Nuisance Abatement—reduced processing time for complaints; tighter enforcement.

• Land Bank Creation to buy unwanted abandoned properties that cannot be sold otherwise.

Community Services

• Satellite Branch for services/library/emergency weather shelter.

• Early warning system.

• Rural Family Economic Success model (RuFES).

Economic Development

• Economic Development Plan with emphasis on tourism and recreation for RFL area.

• Rocky Fork Lake Community Services and Economic Development Coordinator.

Some of the Questions asked by participants included:

• Is it possible to make a report to the sheriff’s office without a scanner that alerts others that a report is being made? Could there be a method for texting from a phone for privacy?

• Will ODNR allow private property owners to install security gates to their docks?

• Is it possible to set standards for landlords? What about Section 8 housing standards? (Health Dept. is looking into possibility of basic standards, but does not want to infringe on citizens’ privacy and individual rights. Exceptions are for abuse or neglect of children, seniors, or mentally disabled individuals. In these cases, report to Job and Family Services. )

• Can a Health Sanitarian make a report or does it need to be a citizen’s report to the Health Department? Citizen reports are encouraged, but a sanitarian can make a report by observation if basic standards are not met for sanitary health.

• What can be done for tax bills that are higher than the value of the property? Contact the County prosecutor to help you walk through the process.

• Suggestion was made to have more activities for youth as well as annual events at RFL; boat race? Bike trail? Volleyball court? Festival?

• What could be done to attract more tourism?

• Some of the roads on south side of the lake are not in good repair.

• What is the possibility of adding a library branch at RFL? Discussions are underway.

• Could we use existing community centers for activity centers?

• Concessions and restrooms need to be addressed at RFL State Park.

Panelists addressed the specific questions. Several in the crowd complimented the panelists and planning team on the progress that is being made and expressed appreciation for the efforts being made, said Winkle.

“The ultimate hope is that the planning grant will result in dollars awarded for an implementation grant,” said Winkle.

The planning project will conclude in March, 2016. Winkle emphasized the importance of community engagement and fostering a sense of community good will and collaboration to improve the area.

(From information submitted by LuAnn Winkle.)

The Times-Gazette