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Group sought lot cleanup money before

Published Oct. 10, 2005

A citizens committee that helps direct how the city uses federal grants had asked for money to clean vacant overgrown lots in impoverished inner-city communities last year, including a city-owned lot near where a woman was killed last week.

A discussion about the requests became heated during a meeting of people from around the city Tuesday evening over the use of Community Development Block Grants, federal dollars provided to improve neighborhoods.

Several members of the city's citizen's group said their requests had fallen on deaf ears in years past.

"We put in all this work making a list of all the things that need attention and we are told either nothing can be done about it or that they are working on it," said Joseph Still, who lives in Seminole Heights. ""That's just not right. Something needs to be done."

The West Tampa lot cleanups were part of a larger renovation program for neighborhoods throughout Tampa. The work included the control of illegal dumping, fixing sidewalks and putting up better lighting on streets, parks and playgrounds. The committee had requested the money for the improvements last March.

City officials said they didn't have the money to clear out vacant lots _ or much of the other work the committee asked to have done.

One lot scheduled for cleanup was located next to the home of Lilly Franklin, a 62-year-old school cafeteria worker stabbed to death early Thursday as she went to work. Franklin and neighbors had complained that the debris and plants on the lot might hide criminals.

No arrest has been made in the death, the fourth of a black woman in West Tampa since September. Police say they have found no link between the four deaths; unlike two of the previous killings, the motive for the most recent one was apparently robbery.

City of Tampa officials on Tuesday acknowledged that requests had been made for money, but said the issue isn't so clear cut.

"Some of the requests have been taken care of," said Steve LaBour, community affairs liaison for Mayor Sandy Freedman. "Some were made using the Community Development Block Grant funds and others came out of the city's general fund."

He didn't know which requests were filled or in what neighborhoods.

The advisory committee voted to send a letter to Freedman asking what was fixed and where. Committee members want an answer in 60 days.

One question LaBour seemed unable to answer was why the money wasn't available. LaBour said he didn't know, but would check on it.

City of Tampa Budget Officer James Stefan didn't attend the meeting. Stefan refused to answer the question when reached at home on Tuesday night.

Committee members, meanwhile, said they will submit the same requests they made last year to city council members on March 19. A public hearing on the requests will be held then.

"We're the proverbial squeaky wheel, all we need now is to make a big enough fuss to get the grease," Still said.

Jim Gray, chairman of the committee, said it's upsetting to know that so many had asked that the lot be cleaned up. "We asked them last year to clean up the lot in West Tampa where that woman was killed," he said. "They didn't do it. So we are going to submit it to them again this year."