West End residents speak out on how grant money should be spent

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 10, 2023

SALISBURY — A month after having their first “kickoff” meeting, West End residents gathered at the Miller Recreation Center on Thursday night to hear the first official proposal for how the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Program grant will be implemented.

The goal of the $800,000 grant is “to find more innovative ways of crime intervention versus just enforcement and locking people up. That’s what has been traditionally done and I feel as though our federal government, local government are seeing that it has detrimental effects on external factors like family, housing and being able to build wealth,” Community Project Coordinator Chanel Nestor said.

City staff, city council member Harry McLaughlin, and Lieutenant Koula Black of the Salisbury Police Department were also in attendance to provide more details on certain topics and answer any questions people may have.

Nestor mentioned the four main categories that the grant would be used for: establishing a neighborhood association, funding youth programs, offering local small businesses portions of the money and neighborhood appearance improvements. However, a number of people believed that would not be enough to remedy the more pressing matters at hand. Residents told stories of gun shots, drug deals and other harrowing accounts in the West End as well as offering their own pragmatic solutions.

Another source of contention was that only $500,000 of the total grant amount is directly going towards these undertakings; the rest will cover administration costs to carry them out. Though that number is high compared to other grants, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Anne Little tried to cool the crowd down by expanding on why that is the case.

“It’s probably not that unusual with this type of grant, particularly given some of the very specific things related to the grant and how funds are administered and what they can and can’t be used for,” Little said.

Even though there were concerns raised by West End residents, nothing boiled over into anger and they made it clear that their frustrations were not directed at Nestor or anyone working for the city. Nestor thinks the talks were “productive” and personally welcomed everyone’s passion.

“This is exactly what I wanted. This is what is needed. It’s needed for those heated conversations to happen, whether it’s heated or it’s casual, the conversations need to happen. Conversations matched with action and also matched with some funds,” Nestor said.

Leading up to next month’s meeting, Nestor will be taking the suggestions that were made and finding out how to logistically roll them out. These included installing cameras in neighborhoods, code enforcement, supportive programs and keeping data on nuisance homes. She is focused on the “perceived safety” that people cited as vital to their well-being. Nestor says she will find out the cost for these recommendations, map out the process of getting the city and police department involved, and make sure updates are being sent out to all participants.

Also discussed during the meeting was the community audit walk that was just completed. Equity Coordinator Kelsi Preston for the Rowan County Health Department explained that the West End Community Park and Garden, Zion Apartments, and Livingstone Wells Center were examined back in April to see how safely someone could move around in a particular area.

Some of the observations made were a lack of speed limit signs, unsafe sidewalk conditions, too much street parking and not enough crosswalks and bus stops. Preston advised that in the future there will be more town halls and plans to share their findings with the city and county.