By Alex Haglund
A draft of the Washington County Comprehensive Plan was recently released and is available for the members of the public to see and read before a public meeting will be held at 8 p.m. on August 4 to review the proposed plan and receive public comment on it.
What is the Washington County Comprehensive Plan though?
“What the plan actually is,” said Linda Tragesser of the Southwestern Illinois Planning Commission, who helped to compile the plan, “is a statement of the public interest, advising the legislative folks, the county board, as to what their preferences are.”
“The board ends up using the plan when they make final decisions on zoning recommendations,” said County Board member Eric Brammeier, who sat on the steering committee for the plan’s update. “Generally the comprehensive plan is looked at as providing a general direction that the county should take. There are exceptions to that of course, but generally, the board should, and usually does take it into account when making decisions.”
Tragesser describes the plan as an advisory and non-regulatory document. It’s consider guidance more than dogma, but the county board and other governmental planning entities still pay a lot of attention to it, unless there’s a very good reason not to.
Compared to the plan from 1999 which this one is an update to, there are, “not a lot of differences,” Brammeier said.
“Certainly a very strong recommendation to encourage the continuation of Washington County being an ag-based county from an economic standpoint. The Prairie State mine and power plant came along, and that’s new, and that changed a few items in the plan, but not a lot.”
The plan includes a lot of demographic information that the steering committee collected, and also shows some of the county’s strengths and weaknesses, which Tragesser mentioned
Strengths Washington County has:
• An interstate highway passing through it with three interchanges in the county.
• Large employers like Innertech and Nascote, and Prairie State
• Extremely low unemployment
• Higher education, job training and a trainable workforce through the Kaskaskia College Nashville Education Center.
• A well-maintained and protected base of agricultural land
Washington County’s Weaknesses include:
• An aging population and a corresponding “youth drain”
• A poor sales tax base
• High real estate taxes
• A lack of housing options
“The county’s population growth has been pretty static,” Tragesser said, “and it’s not only youth drain, it’s brain drain.” The county’s young people, particularly those who seek higher education, will often look for jobs outside of the county, removing themselves and, “you’re not just losing your education level, you’re losing your income level as well.”
This is the first update to the plan since 1999. While the plan is made with a 20 year outlook in mind, it’s actually advisable to review and update the plans every 10 years, so this draft 17 years later is a little behind.
Getting the opinions of millennials and their ideas on how to attract and retain a young, educated workforce was important to the steering committee. “we try to get a well-rounded group,” Tragesser said, but if they don’t respond, it’s hard for the committee to keep their opinions in mind. There was a survey where the steering committee sought millennial opinion (The results were summarized in the July 15, 2015 edition of The Nashville News and are published in the appendices of the draft of the comprehensive plan), but it is still in everyone’s interest that people see the draft plan, and speak up to the steering committee if they have thoughts or suggestions.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to take a look at the plan,” Brammeier said. “The steering committee has presented their thoughts and interests as far as their draft plan goes. The planning commission now is going to hold their public hearing on the plan and certainly, public input is welcome and encouraged at that hearing. From there, the planning commission is going to send it to the county board for their final approval, which I anticipate sometime in October.”
To put the plan in front of the eyes of the public, The Nashville News is hosting a copy of the 169-page document online HERE (Links to the document are posted to our Facebook page and on the @nashnews Twitter account as well. The plan will also be available soon on the websites of other Washington County entities, and a copy is available at the Washington County Clerk and Recorder’s office in the county courthouse as well.