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Comprehensively speaking

Area residents discuss their visions for Bureau County

PRINCETON — About 40 Bureau County residents showed up for the last of four public meetings held around the county to gather public input for an updated comprehensive plan for the county.

The Bureau County Regional Planning Commission set up the public meetings, which saw a total of 90 residents in attendance. Bureau County Zoning Enforcement Officer Kris Donarski is working with the commission on the updated comprehensive plan project.

Consultant Michael Reibel facilitated Wednesday’s final meeting, held at the Bureau County Courthouse in Princeton. Other meetings were held in Buda, Manlius and LaMoille.

Reibel began Wednesday’s meeting by giving background on county statistics and then asking audience members for their input on a wide range of topics, from strengths and weaknesses of the county, transportation and housing needs, business needs, to future goals. Public input is the backbone for the process of updating the existing comprehensive plan, which was done nearly 40 years ago in 1969, he said.

When asked what they envisioned for the future of Bureau County, audience members came up with more than 15 different things, including more jobs, especially higher-paying jobs to retain and attract young people to the county; more small businesses and more manufacturing; more entertainment and other things to do within the county; increased preservation of historical and natural resources in the county; and higher education opportunities within the county for young people as well as continuing education opportunities for adults.

Other recommendations were to do a better job of promoting Bureau County as a great place to live and to raise a family; to protect the county’s quiet spaces; to preserve prime farmland; and to look at the economic development of the county by hiring an economic development director.

Looking at the values of the county, residents said they value the county’s quality of life, its schools and religious freedom, public health and safety, and lower crime rate. Other things of great value are the new Captain Swift Bridge as an attraction for the county, the county’s proximity to Interstate 80, its clean air, historical resources and landmarks, and natural resources.

Those things all need to be preserved in the future, the audience members agreed. The county also needs to work to preserve its existing small and light manufacturing businesses, an audience member said.

The strengths of the county include its people, schools, churches, values, cleanliness, and transportation options through BPART, the railroad and interstate.

Among the county’s weaknesses are its unemployment problem, the loss of industry, the loss of young people from the area, drugs, lack of medical resources and a lack of vision for the county.

The audience also gave input on the types of housing it would like to see in the county in the future, how to improve the local economy, what types of businesses need to be attracted to the county, developing transportation options and what kinds of county facilities are needed to maximize the quality of life in the county.

Donarski said the regional planning commission hopes to have the updated comprehensive plan completed by the end of the summer. The plan will then be brought to the full Bureau County Board for final review and approval.

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Bureau County by the numbers
* The population of Bureau County continues to decline. The 2010 census shows the county had 34,918 residents, which represents 1.5 percent less than the 2000 population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more of the population, about 74.5 percent, are living in municipalities and incorporated areas, compared to 73.6 percent in 2000.
• The county population's median age increased, from 39.6 years to 42.5 years, between the 2000 and 2010 census.
• Bureau County covers 866 square miles; 92 percent of its land is used for agriculture or agriculture-related purposes; 422,805 acres are classified as prime farmland; 15,762 acres are classified as wetlands.
• Bureau County has 1,786 miles of public roadways.
• Bureau County has an 8 percent housing vacancy, compared to 9.7 percent statewide.
•Approximately 84 percent of the county's dwelling units are one-unit, detached buildings. The median value of a home in Bureau County is $103,800, compared to $198,500 for the state.
• Based on 2012 numbers, Bureau County's had a average monthly unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, compared to 8.9 percent for the state.
• Approximately 60.7 percent of the local work force work within the county.
Source: Information presented by consultant Michael Reibel.

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