By Charlotte Smith
Crawford said, “I want to give you a challenge. The challenge is to come up with a way to find your own community development corporation.” He added, “When BB&T and SunTrust merged they put aside 60 billion dollars just to do this kind of stuff, but there is no group that’s out there asking for it from Elizabethtown.”
Over 60 people were in attendance at the Elizabethtown Community Forum sponsored by the West Bladen NAACP held on Tuesday, February 18 at the Paul R. Brown Leadership. Pastor Corey Lyons, chairman of the local NAACP group led the meeting between the community members and the Town of Elizabethtown officials. Economic development and maintaining property were the main topics of the meeting.
Pastor Lyons listed the West Bladen NAACP current goals and the objective of the forum. The goals are to create equality in local economic development, equality in local, state and national elected officials, and equality in efforts to beautify the neighborhoods.
A panel of Town of Elizabethtown officials were seated at a table on a platform ready to address the group’s goals. Mayor Sylvia Campbell, Mayor Pro Tem Rufus Lloyd and other council members, Ricky Leinwand, Howell Clark, and Eddie Madden were all in attendance.
Town of Elizabethtown Manager, Eddie Madden introduced other Town of Elizabethtown Department Directors in attendance such as the fire chief, marketing director, the maintenance director, and the police chief.
Madden also introduced, Brian Crawford, an attorney with Sanford Holshouser, LLP.
Crawford explained, “We are a boutique firm. We just deal in mainly three areas; community economic development, affordable housing, downtown revitalization, and we also handle municipal finance.”
“We want inclusive communities and not segregated communities,” Crawford added, “We like to help facilitate community conversations.”
Pastor Lyons said, “I think if we could get some assistance in our neighborhoods and make them look better, I think it would help out with morale.”
After Lyons thanked the members of the council for explaining who they were and what their duties entail he opened the floor up to members of the audience to address their questions and concerns to the Town officials.
Ms. Delores Wade from Lewis Street in Elizabethtown had a question others in attendance also had. She asked, “What can the city do about dilapidated property, unkempt property on Cedar Street here in Elizabethtown?”
She added, “Nobody has lived there, nobody is doing anything, it’s just there and we would like to beautify our area, if we may.”
Mayor Campbell replied, “Yes, mam there is and we are already trying to identify those areas.”
The mayor explained all the Town officials need to address the issues of unkempt property is for citizens to complain. “We can contact those owners and try to get them to clean it up,” Mayor Campbell said.
Council member Clark also responded saying, “Ms. Wade, we acknowledge there is an issue with that and when I first got on the council, Mr. Lloyd and I looked at the properties and we ranked them, and those properties are on there.”
Mr. Lloyd confirmed Clark’s statement was true.
“There is a process we have to go through,” Clark explained, “Science has proven the best thing that you can do for a community is to remove the blighted, get rid of the properties like that and get them to where you can run a lawn mower over them.”
By getting rid of the dilapidated properties you can make the communities safer, however, the Town must work with the property owners because they are privately owned, Clark explained before handing the issue over to Town Manager, Eddie Madden.
“We have to follow state law. First there is a petition that has to be filled out by at least five property owners complaining of the issue,” Madden said.
The petition initiates a letter to the home owners informing them of the conditions of their property and allowing them a certain amount of time to address those issues before fines are implemented and other action is taken by the Town officials.
“Truthfully, those aren’t very effective,” Madden said regarding the letters. In many cases the Town has had to go in and clean up those properties and attached the costs to the property owners’ tax bill, according to Madden.
People in attendance were encouraged to stop by the Town of Elizabethtown Town Hall to obtain a copy of the sign petition for blighted properties so the process can begin on dilapidated properties.
The need for ditches to be cleaned out properly was also brought up during the meeting by Mayor Pro Tem Lloyd along with other residents. Mr. Lloyd addressed Mr. Madden, other members of the council and town staff on the needed attention to the mentioned neighborhoods’ ditches. Residents complained of ditches causing flooding at their properties.
Funding has been provided through grants since Hurricanes Matthew and Florence to assist in recovery efforts. “There has been a shift in priorities by the State and they are now providing funding for storm drainage,” Madden said, “A storm drainage type problem may, potentially be eligible for funding.”
We submitted an application today for a half-million dollar grant to address those issues, Madden added.
Rev. Rachel Mitchell from the Lisbon area stated there is a need for employment opportunities in the area.
Mayor Campbell said, “We want an industry to come, a big industry. They are out there trying to recruit every day.”
Howell countered Rev. Mitchell’s statement with the abundant amount of job openings for truck drivers, and other positions currently vacant in the area. “We desperately need machinists. We desperately need truck drivers and other positions.”
Rev. Mitchell also noted the need for activities like a YMCA, the movies and bowling in the area. Mr. Lloyd explained he assisted in a financial analysts for a bowling alley, but according to the numbers, that type of business would not be profitable in the area.
“In regards to recreation, we need to get the young people to get the recreation. It is a big deal, but the things you mentioned are private enterprises,” Clark stated.
“We have done some things to help with recreation,” Mayor Campbell said. She mentioned activities at local parks.
Mr. Madden explained that while a multi-million dollar recreation project is not visible for the Town, he did feel there was potential for the Town to join forces with other stake holders in Bladen County to provide a multi-use building in the area.
Last, but not least, Mr. Crawford said, “I want to give you a challenge. The challenge is to come up with a way to find your own community development corporation.”
“Here’s why, you have the Town here who has expressed an interest in helping you. We can talk to them later on about how much that check is that they want to write to support you. But initially you have to ground yourselves into a group so your voice can speak as one for a purpose,” Crawford explained.
He added, “When BB&T and SunTrust merged they put aside 60 billion dollars just to do this kind of stuff, but there is no group that’s out there asking for it from Elizabethtown.”
A well-developed non-profit will get the funding. If the members in attendance have five to 10 people willing to create a development group, Crawford said he would put the paperwork together for the group.
“I see a strong church in here, I see some strong residents and it looks like a community development corporation,” Crawford said.
Mr. Charles McKoy a resident of Elizabethtown spoke up on several issues and asked more questions about how to get the community development corporation started.
Before closing, Council member Leinwand encouraged all those in attendance to attend the monthly council meetings held on the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall council chambers in downtown Elizabethtown.
“Everybody is equal. We want to be friends. We are accessible. We want to do a good job and we appreciate you coming,” Leinwand said.
Madden echoed Leinwand and reminded the audience to reach out to the town departments. “They want to serve you as well. There motto is service above self,” Madden said.
Pastor Lyons said after the meeting he hopes someone will stand up to chair a community development corporation to help Elizabethtown. “We need a seat at the table,” Pastor Lyon said.
He added he plans to continue the monthly West Bladen NAACP sponsored community forums to create better dialog between minorities and stakeholders in the community. Anyone interested in being involved in the West Bladen NAACP may contact Pastor Lyons or attend the monthly meetings held at the Paul R. Leadership Academy on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m.