Charting the course for the future of the county
June 20, 2012
By FRANK SHANLY
If you’ve ever wanted to have your say in what goes on in Wells County, this is your chance to speak up.
County officials will be working on a comprehensive plan over the next 18 months that will chart the course for our immediate future. Volunteers from all walks of life, and all corners of the county are being invited to step forward and make provide their thoughts on what needs to be done.
The project has been tackled twice before. The current plan, formulated in 1993, is set to expire at the end of 2013.
With the exercise expected to take in the region of 12 to 18 months to complete, the process must begin at this time, and at its April 5 meeting, the Wells County Area Plan Commission took the first steps towards this goal.
“The main goal of this is to set up what we are doing good in the community right now, and what we need to be doing, listing projects and getting funding ideas,” explained Area Plan Commission Director Mike Lautzenheiser Jr. “Subjects like bridges, and schools and sidewalks, anything that is integral to any of the jurisdictions, or fire departments (will be considered).
“Whatever it is, these items are the beginnings of projects that really do happen. Examples from the old comprehensive plan are the River Greenway, and the Poneto and Vera Cruz and Uniondale and Zanesville’s sewer systems, and the beginnings of the Bluffton bypass road, which is continuing.”
A steering committee of 15 people has been established to set out the procedures for inviting county residents to provide their input, collecting the contributions and using the information to formulate the plan. The committee will also decide the period over which the plan will apply. Wells County’s two previous comprehensive plans were both 20-year plans, and although state statutes do not establish a required length, they recommend either five, 10, or 20 years.
The committee will consist of:
• Todd Mahnensmith representing the Wells County Council.
• Scott Mossburg representing the Wells County Commissioners.
• Bette Erxleben representing the City of Bluffton.
• Terri Hughes-Lazell representing the Town of Ossian.
• Jarrod Hahn, Bill Horan and Jerome Markley representing the APC.
• Daryl Elliott representing the three county school systems
• Gene Cushman of Uniondale representing the four smaller incorporated towns (Poneto, Uniondale, Vera Cruz and Zanesville.)
• Wayne Henley, Steve Huffman, Bob Johnson, Mike Kracium, Marilyn Maddox and Rhonda Ryan, all serving as citizen representatives.
The committee’s first meeting has been scheduled for July 11 in the Wells Carnegie Annex.
It is expected that residents countywide will receive their opportunity to put their ideas forward over the winter months.
Lautzenheiser Jr., had originally envisaged that each township establish a sub-committee of perhaps nine people, however he now feels that some communities may prefer just an “open house” for anyone interested to come along.
It will be the job of steering committee members to decide which approach will work best.
Lautzenheiser Jr. anticipates that the time required by each community to complete its work will depend on how much detail its members feel is appropriate for their community.
“For a town the size of Poneto or Vera Cruz, some of the questions will be very simple,” Lautzenheiser anticipated. “But if a subcommittee wants to look at a specific topic and look at it in more detail, they will probably need to have more meetings.
“There are going to be items that are more unique to different parts of the county. Though items that may be Southern Wells bound now, or Northern Wells bound now, we don’t want to be left out. If there’s a question about school funding, or energy programs, they can all be county-wide discussions.”
At the June 7 meeting of the APC, in an attempt to provide an example of what the plan is designed to do, APC President Jerome Markley read Poneto’s “goal” as stated in the 1993 plan.
At that time, Poneto representatives identified a public sewage system for the town as a primary need, with a public water system as a “would also like to have” item.
Markley then asked Poneto’s representative on the APC, Finley Lane, if these had been achieved.
Lane advised that the sewage system had been taken care of, and the water system was still under consideration.
Area Plan staff will fulfil the administrative support roles throughout the exercise.
Once the input has been received from each community, it will be the job of the steering committee to put the plan together.
“If there are conflicting statements between subcommittees, the members of the steering committee will also be the ones to review/change/whatever,” said Lautzenheiser. “So their job heats up at the end.”
Once the steering committee has taken all the reports and made the initial draft of the comprehensive plan, then the Area Plan Commission will host at least a public hearing, and maybe a public meeting and a public hearing.
The final plan will then need to be approved by all governing entities within the county before final acceptance.
Lautzenheiser encourages residents from as many groups within the community to take part in this process.
“This is the next 20 years worth of work,” he stressed. “The process is only as successful as the people who put their time into it. If somebody has a special interest group or have something special, they can be brought in to discuss the topic with the subcommittees. The better the mix of people, the better the output from each community, and that makes the process a lot more realistic.”