Lake County forums seek feedback on strategic plan
Lake County employee Anita Patel takes note of resident suggestions during a Libertyville forum on Lake County's strategic plan. Forums continue this month. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media
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Updated: April 8, 2013 6:10AM
LIBERTYVILLE — Turnout was small at the first 2013 Lake County strategic plan forum in Libertyville, but residents who attended could make a big future impact.
Approximately 35 people braved wet, wintry weather on Feb. 27 to give their input on Lake County’s strategic plan, which will guide county government for the next five years.
The public’s input was last sought in 2008 over several forums and online avenues that attracted roughly 400 residents. Both then and now, county board chairman Aaron Lawlor said engaging the public is helpful in gathering feedback, as well as gaining credibility for the government’s eventual decisions.
In addition to the forums, which will happen next in Lake Villa, Deerfield, Waukegan and Wauconda, residents can also participate by giving feedback online at www.lakecountyil.gov. County administrator Barry Burton said the public’s voice is crucial.
“Whatever you offer is going to be meaningful for the board,” he said.
Lawlor said a lot has changed since 2008, the year the recession hit. In addition to resulting economic downturn, Lake County has also experienced steady population growth. Lawlor added that input from citizens is valuable, because it allows the board to get a big-picture view of county issues.
Representatives from many county departments are available before each forum to answer questions. Each has their own table with information and visual aids, set up to help educate residents about what the county does,
This is key, because several residents at the forum did not understand the scope of county government. For example, Emily Karry of the Lake County Transportation Department said one resident at the Libertyville forum felt high speed rail is something the state should be looking at.
“Of course we have no jurisdiction over that,” Karry said.
In addition, other residents worried about daily annoyances, said Lake County board member Carol Calabresa, whose district spans Libertyville and Mundelein.
“People say ‘you’re spending millions on road projects, but what are you going to do about potholes?’”
But the strategic plan focuses on a macro view of Lake County. The current plan states five goals: reduce congestion and improve transportation; enhance livability and economic opportunities; promote a sustainable environment; build healthy and resilient communities; and provide public safety.
Forum attendees are tasked with determining whether these goals are the correct for the county, or if they need to be reworded or amended.
Third Lake resident Jim Bland wanted to make fair taxation a goal and said the current goals would be impossible without it.
“These are all wonderful things if you have a reasonable tax base,” he said. “We are severely taxed.”
Assistant county administrator Ryan Waller said this is a common refrain among residents, and establishing reasonable rates for taxes the county controls was ultimately added as a proposed sixth goal.
Audience participants also suggested studying government efficiency and consolidation. Several said they felt township governments and taxing bodies duplicate services and could pool their resources. The idea gained traction at the forum and was added as another potential goal.
Concerns like senior and affordable housing also surfaced.
“If we love where we live, don’t we want to stay where we live?” asked unincorporated Gurnee resident Ron Friedman, while championing housing for the elderly.
Lake Bluff resident Maureen Murphy brought up affordable housing and tied traffic congestion — a common county complaint — to the possibility that many people who work in Lake County can’t afford to live there.
Grayslake resident Jerry Weber said more should be done to strengthen the business community and attract new companies to the area.
County board chairman Aaron Lawlor said he takes all the input gathered at the forums seriously, and contrasted Lake county with state and federal governing bodies.
“I like county government,” he said. “You can actually get things done.”