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|Second WM community meeting yields more participants|
A group of concerned residents of West Monroe's south side, along with city officials, held another meeting Tuesday to explore ways to revitalize lagging neighborhoods south of Interstate 20.
The West Monroe Community Center was the site for the second of a series of meetings concerning community revitalization.
Center director Denise Calhoun said she hope the meetings will become a tool to turn the tide for the residents of southern West Monroe.
"Our meetings that we are scheduling once a month are not about how we need to tell the city of West Monroe what they are going to do," Calhoun said. "It's about collectively, as members of the West Monroe community, what we can do to improve our neighborhoods."
Calhoun was encouraged when the number of participants at Tuesday's meeting had increased over the previous month.
She said that indicated to her an increasing interest in helping turn around a community largely viewed as declining.
Calhoun said she recognized the difficulties facing the residents of southern West Monroe as they struggle to overcome the stigmas attached to their neighborhoods.
However, Calhoun pointed out that one of those perceptions -- the perception that the neighborhood suffers high crime rates -- is not borne out by statistics.
"One of the things we talked about last time was, relatively speaking, there is very low crime in south West Monroe," said Calhoun. "There is much greater crime rate in other areas of north Louisiana."
When one participant suggested utilizing the old Mitchell Elementary School as a police patrol substation, Calhoun pointed out the number of patrols in southern West Monroe outnumber patrols in the rest of the city.
Also, she noted three substations already exist south of I-20.
"I think one of the things that the perception is this neighborhood is not heavily patrolled, when in actuality, the majority of patrols are south of Stella-Mill," Calhoun said. "So there is much greater police presence down here than in other parts of West Monroe."
Mitchell Avenue resident O'Shea Burns questioned city officials about a lack of repairs to Montgomery Street, which he said was a state-owned but city-maintained road.
Calhoun told Burns she had asked about the street and discovered it was in the grant cycle to receive funding. That funding, however, could be years away because of the expense of rebuilding sewer lines beneath the road, Calhoun said.
Burns questioned the reasons why Montgomery Street was not higher on the city's funding priorities and said he believed it was because of the location.
"It's not a high priority because it's on this side," of West Monroe, Burns said. "But if it was over there by the Ike, it'd have been fixed."
Burns said he believed money flowed easier on the city's north side while it "trickles into south side."
"I'm still paying my taxes every year and they won't wait on that," Burns said.
Pastor Terrance Millican, of Olive Branch Baptist Church, said his congregation was ready to help the center mobilize by providing volunteers to distribute fliers as well as work to revitalize the neighborhood.
"We can't come here once a month and talk things to death and then have no action when we leave here," Millican said. "Because that means this is just a feel good hour."
Millican said change would have to start with individuals.
"We need to instill a sense of pride in this neighborhood," Millican said. "We have to build bridges."
One way participants hoped to build those bridges was the completion of a list of potential projects in the south side.
Calhoun said she would work with her staff and members of the community to build that list, so that it could be presented to those present at the June 24th community meeting.
Calhoun added that action, not words, would accomplish something no amount of government action and intervention would lead to -- a renewed sense of pride among the area's residents.
"That's one house at a time, neighbor to neighbor," Calhoun said.
The West Monroe Community Center will host the third community meeting on Tuesday, June 24, beginning at 6 p.m.
For more information about the center's neighborhood development initiative or to volunteer, call 387-4001.