03/13/05 — Strategic plan tied to land-use plan

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Strategic plan tied to land-use plan

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 13, 2005 2:12 AM

It's no coincidence that the terms "strategic plan" and "land-use plan" are constantly popping up in Wayne County commissioner meetings.

The two are inextricably linked.

In a recent briefing to state legislators, commissioners brought up local issues that are expected to be addressed in the county's land-use plan. And in a meeting between the county Board of Education and the commissioners, County Manager Lee Smith referred to the county's strategic plan.

"The majority of recommendations in the eight-year-old strategic plan are being addressed through the land-use plan," Smith said.

So what are those recommendations? And how are they being answered through the land-use plan?

It started nine years ago when the commissioners asked a group of businessmen, civic leaders and citizens to develop a plan identifying the county's top issues, and to suggest ways to address them.

Although there were only 17 members of the core group, the formation of sub-committees and input from residents during public forums brought the number of people involved in developing the plan to about 300.

In 1997, the Wayne County Strategic Planning Committee presented commissioners with a 25-page plan. It discussed 12 priorities:

*Education/work force training.

*Economic Development.

*Land use planning/growth management.

*Farmland preservation.

*Water and sewer utilities.

*Transportation planning.

*Seymour Johnson.

*Health care.

*Seniors, youth and other special populations

*Public safety.

*Environmental quality and natural resources.

*Communications/community relations.

The commissioners began working on portions of the plan. The construction of a second speculative building for a new industry addressed the subject of economic development.

In 1999, the county was hit hard by the floods of Hurricane Floyd and spent most of the next three years recovering from the devastation.

When Smith came on board as manager in 2002, the first thing the commissioners did was hand him the strategic plan.

"They gave me the plan and said here are some things we want done," Smith said.

After reading it, Smith said he realized the Wayne County Strategic Planning Committee had put together a plan that the county could, and should, follow.

"All the things we're doing sprung out of the strategic plan," he said. "I used it to help develop a work plan."

Land use

Smith says the county is in the process of hiring a consultant to carry out the plan.

"This is a comprehensive plan, and an important part of it will be public involvement," he said.

The land-use plan will cover these areas of concern: economic development, transportation, agricultural, natural and cultural resources, utilities and community facilities, land use, and housing.

The consultant will look at county transportation needs up to the year 2025.

"All parts of transportation, highways, rail, air travel, urban and rural travel will be looked at," Smith said.

Trends in the supply and demand of property, the price of land, development and conflicts in land use will also be analyzed.

Another part of the land use plan will address housing needs, from high-level corporate executives to people with special needs.

Smith said that the consultant would also establish a plan to develop sanitary sewer service, storm water management, solid waste disposal, and on-site wastewater treatment technologies.

The plan will assess the need for additional public buildings such as police and fire stations, libraries and child care facilities.

In-depth research will also be done to identify productive agricultural areas in the county, mineral reserves, and historic and cultural resources.

"We have battlegrounds that we really haven't promoted, or cultivated," Smith said.

In the economic development element, the county will have an analysis of the labor force conducted and assess the county's strengths and weaknesses in attracting and retaining businesses and industries.

"It's a massive effort," Smith said. "But this information will help us move forward."

The comprehensive land-use plan also contains a section called "intergovernmental cooperation."

Smith said that element would analyze the relationship of the county to the school board and other local governmental units, and to the region and state.

"This is important," Smith said. "This will go hand in hand when we bring the strategic planning group back together."

There were a few objectives outlined in the strategic plan that aren't being handled through the land use plan, Smith says.

For example, the strategic plan called for the protection of Seymour Johnson Air Force base, through land-use planning. Recently, the commissioners approved an ordinance restricting development on land near the base, where noise levels and the potential for crashes are greatest.

The needs of senior citizens and other special populations, was listed as an area that needed improvement in the strategic plan. Those needs are being worked on, Smith says.

"One thing has been the restructuring of the Gateway transportation system," Smith said. "This has helped improve the transportation for the disabled and elderly."

Smith said the Senior Center is offering more programs, and the county will be considering whether it needs facilities for seniors in the next few years.

The city and county merged emergency services in 2002, and the county just completed a communications plan, as part of the public safety portion of the strategic plan.

"The communications plan came out of homeland security considerations," Smith said, "and allows for the continuity of government in an emergency."

To improve community relations, the county has begun an annual report on the "state of Wayne," and issues a monthly newsletter. Commissioner meetings are also televised on the local cable access channel.

What's left ?

The one piece of the strategic plan that hasn't been followed, says Smith, deals with school issues.

The school board and commissioners were still at odds after repeated meetings, Smith said, so he researched a decade of meeting notes and looked for any information that might help move the two boards forward.

The answer, he said, was right in the county's strategic plan.

"We've carried out about 98 percent of that plan," Smith said. "But we haven't followed the recommendations regarding education."

That could be about to change. The commissioners say they are going to begin following the three recommendations outlined in the education portion of the plan. Those recommendations:

1. Hold an annual retreat between the school board and the commissioners.

2. Form a county educational council.

3. Hold an annual countywide education summit.

Last week the commissioners sent a letter to the school board, announcing the their intention to reconvene the steering committee that worked on the strategic plan. The commissioners decided that bringing the original steering committee members back together would be the best way to begin implementing elements of the plan.

Although discussions between the two boards have stalled in the past, Smith said he believes that following the strategic plan is a neutral way for the boards to communicate.

Each of the two boards needs to understand "what the other board is dealing with," Smith said.

The county must look after the taxpayers dollars, he said. "And the school board manages state and federal mandates, and is responsible for building facilities."

Smith said it was a good idea for the two boards to sit down together on an annual basis to understand each other's situation.

"A lot of it is understanding each other's plan," Smith said. "The commissioners want to make sure that the plan for the schools is comprehensive. Have we looked at growth trends, diversity issues and whether it's feasible to combine schools?"

Those concerns have been expressed by the commissioners. Smith said they spring from a desire to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money.

"Can we do more with less?" Smith asked. "Not always. But if we have to go to the public for more money we have to demonstrate the need for the money."