Herald-Advocate News

County begins strategic planning process

Marlboro County Council members held the first in a series of strategic planning sessions immediately following their regular monthly meeting last week.
The purpose of strategic planning, said County Administrator Ron Munnerlyn, is to have council members discuss and understand the “big picture” facing the county, identify and prioritize areas of focus, and create a game plan for using scarce resources to accomplish goals.
The first step in such a process is to determine where the problems lie. For that reason, the initial session centered on identifying issues and factors which are detrimental to quality of life in the county. 
Future sessions, to be held in conjunction with council meetings over the next few months, will focus on identifying resources, setting goals, and generating a document to guide the county over the next 3-5 years.
The first question Munnerlyn posed to council members last week was, “Where are we now?”  
One very specific concern was the county’s consistent loss of population over the past few decades. In the 1980s, the population was 31,643. In 1990, it was 29,704, and in 2016, it was 26,945. 
But, Munnerlyn pointed out, the 2016 figure includes the populations of Evans Correctional Institution (1,308), which opened in 1990,  and the Federal Correctional Institution-Bennettsville (1,688), which opened in 2005.
Removing the prison occupants from the equation leaves a county population of 23,949. This is 5,755 people less (or 20 percent less) than in 1990.
Many of those who have left the county over the years had the means to do so and were not living in poverty. The population that remains is more likely to be living in poverty and has much greater needs which must be addressed.
In a brainstorming session, the council considered factors that are key to quality of life in the community.  Eight general areas were identified: health, environment, personal financial well-being, public safety, education, recreation/amenities, transportation, and infrastructure.
Within those categories, council members then came up with dozens of issues the county currently is facing. Some of them were:
Health:
No hospital; lack of wellness/preventative care; high rates of diseases/illnesses; poor nutrition; drug use; lack of mental health services
Environment: 
Derelict housing; homelessness; noise
Personal financial well-being:
Lack of jobs/loss of industry; limited childcare
Public safety:
Limited police
Education:
Lack of vocational education/workforce training; K-12 issues
Recreation/amenities:
No activities for adults or senior citizens; limited shopping and dining; blue law restrictions; utilization/condition of Lake Paul Wallace
Transportation:
Lack of both personal and public transportation
Infrastructure:
Poor road conditions; limited public water in the northern part of the county; limited internet access; limited cellular coverage; solid waste collection problems
Now that issues have been identified, the council will work to prioritize them, determine which are “required” and which are “desired,” and identify potential resources. These will be covered in future strategic planning sessions.
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