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Residents offer ways to spend city's grant money

April 15, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - How can the city spend $495,000?

Martinsburg residents voiced numerous ideas Wednesday on how the funding - from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of its Community Development Block Grant program - could be used by the city of Martinsburg.

Ideas included renewing plans to build a park or path along Tuscarora Creek, improving homeless shelters and programs, building an indoor pool, repairing curbs and helping with affordable rental housing.

Martinsburg officials expect to begin spending the grant money Aug. 1, said Walt Haglund, a consultant with a Pittsburgh-based business that specializes in Community Development Block Grant programs.

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At least 70 percent of the funds must be used to benefit low- to moderate-income residents, while 30 percent must be used to help eliminate slums and blight, Haglund said.

Around 20 people turned out for a public hearing Wednesday evening. Another public meeting is set for 7 p.m. on May 24, when city officials will announce which proposals they intend to fund.

Residents are not short on ideas.

James Bullett, who lives on Vicky Bullett Street, was one of three people to propose that plans for a park along Tuscarora Creek, which had been abandoned, be renewed.

"It would definitely help that area and I think it would be well-used," Bullett said.

A pathway along the creek could be used by cyclists, older people seeking a walk and joggers, echoed LaRue Frye. Frye, who is seeking a seat on City Council, said she talked to a person who owns two pieces of property that abut the creek. She said that person would welcome the park, even though it likely means picking up trash.

Wanda Beard, who lives on North High Street, said curbs along her street need to be improved. "People now can't tell the streets from the sidewalks," she said.

Some people park on the sidewalks, she said.

Glenda Helman, with Community Networks Inc., spoke as an advocate for the homeless. Last year her agency served 178 homeless women and children.

Community Networks also offered housing to five people with HIV or AIDS last year, she said.

Stefani Pierson, with Martinsburg's Boys & Girls Club, said her building at the corner of Queen and John streets needs a new roof and a furnace. It also has several broken windows.

Many of the 70 or so children who come to the club every day walk from nearby communities made up of low- to moderate-income residents, she said.

Black-and-white maps of the city were handed out at the meeting. Areas where 51 percent or more of the residents are, according to Census data, low- to moderate-income income were highlighted in yellow. A little less than half of the map appeared to be highlighted.

Councilman Gregg Wachtel said money could be used to build an indoor pool. It would serve City Hospital patients who use aquatic exercises as therapy, high school swim teams that now rent the indoor pool at Shepherd College, and residents who only can swim when the city's two outdoor pools are open in the summer, he said.

Jay Chambers said money could be used to help veterans. His nonprofit organization, Veterans on the Rise, provides housing and relapse prevention programs to homeless veterans who have completed drug and/or alcohol treatment programs at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Veterans on the Rise rents two buildings, but would like to buy property, Chambers said.

Cheryl Moyer, with Telamon Corp., suggested funding be used to address the "screaming need" for affordable rental housing for the working poor. She also said a cold weather and family shelter are needed for the homeless. Improving the downtown area is not going to happen until people are no longer living on the streets, she said.

Other projects that could be funded include improving streets or water and sewer lines; acquiring and possibly demolishing property; funding neighborhood groups or organizations that benefit low- to moderate-income residents; or helping a business expand if it will then hire people of a certain income, Haglund said.

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