Strategic planning looks at finance, safety

Marlboro County Council concluded a series of strategic planning sessions last week with the goal of establishing a “road map” for staff to follow in order to improve on quality of life for county residents.
Over three sessions, the council identified factors which make up quality of life in a community, issues that exist in Marlboro County which are detrimental to quality of life, and, finally, how the county can effect positive change on some of those issues.
The final strategic planning session took place Tuesday, November 14, in conjunction with the regular monthly council meeting. 
Issues fell into one of eight broad categories: health, environment, personal financial well-being, public safety, education, recreation and amenities, transportation and infrastructure, and need for increased efficiency of county government.
The Herald-Advocate reported on the first two categories - health and environment - last week. This week, we will look at the issues of personal financial well-being, public safety, and education.

Personal financial 
well-being
Issues impacting residents’ personal financial well-being were identified as a decline in industry/jobs, loss of population, and overall economy.
In terms of the decline in industry, the council identified three economic development initiatives that could help: developing additional industrial sites/improving existing sites; participating in additional multi-county industrial sites; and leveraging the county-owned railroad to increase annual car loads and revenue.
Multi-county industrial sites are advantageous because, not only does Marlboro County share in tax revenues, but residents also have access to nearby jobs. The need to provide transportation for residents who work outside the county was part of this discussion.
Loss of population is an issue that has plagued the county for decades. In 1990, the population was almost 30,000, and in 2016, it was nearly 27,000. 
But this is misleading because the 2016 figure includes the inmate populations of both the state and federal prisons, which were not here when the 1990 figures were determined.
When the Evans Correctional inmate count and the FCI-Bennettsville inmate count are removed from the county’s total population numbers, it leaves a population of around 24,000 - about 20 percent less than the population in 1990.
Furthermore, the people who have left over the years were most likely not living in poverty, which means the county now has a greater percentage of people who are living in poverty, and that impacts the overall economy.
To address the loss of population, the council identified the recruitment of new residents through the county’s proposed “Destination Marlboro” campaign. Retirees would be a good market because their criteria when choosing a new home would have more to do with cost of living and small-town atmosphere than the school system or job availability.
“Destination Marlboro,” as well as making better use of the county’s cultural and historical attractions, would also help with the overall economy by bringing in visitors and increasing sales tax revenue.

Public safety
Big issues in the area of public safety had to do with both law enforcement and fire protection.
In terms of law enforcement, there is a limited number of patrol deputies covering a large geographical area. Council members discussed the need to increase the number of patrol deputies in order to improve coverage in the rural areas.
In the fire service, the issue is a lack of new volunteers and the fact that many current volunteers are “aging out” of the service.
Addressing this problem will involve developing incentives and expense reimbursement policies in order to recruit and retain volunteers. The county has already begun this by paying volunteers $10 per call and hiring part-time firefighters to cover calls during the day, when it is hardest to get volunteers.
The third issue identified in the area of public safety has to do with the shared services agreement between the county and the city of Bennettsville. Through this agreement, the city provides fire service in a five-mile radius outside the city limits, and it was discussed that the arrangement should be evaluated to see if this is the best alternative. It will be revisited in the spring.

Education
Most of the issues involving education in Marlboro County are the responsibility of the school district, not the county.
However, a lack of vocational training is something the county can work to improve through continued support of Northeastern Technical College’s industry training center to be located in the old Winn-Dixie building in Bennettsville.
The county has deeded this property to NETC for its training center, which will include both vocational education programs as well as specialized, industry-specific classes.
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