“The county is strong.”
That’s the message Union County Commissioners want the public to take from the recently released State of the County Address.
“We were able to come through 2020, a year of so many unknowns, and unexpected events and come through it well from a financial standpoint, from a health standpoint, from a relationship standpoint with all of our partners in the county,” County Commissioner Chris Schmenk said.
Schmenk, who took the lead in authoring the 25-page document, said the State of the County presentation, “provides our citizens with useful information regarding operation of the county.”
The presentation summarizes the status of the county through calendar year 2020 and identifies key initiatives for the future, including: addressing the dynamic projected growth of the county; promoting smart sustainable business and residential growth in a manner which recognizes the county’s agricultural heritage and encourages the preservation of farmland and open spaces; and developing and implementing a thoughtful and deliberative process to use state and local coronavirus fiscal recovery funds received pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The document also provided a financial overview, key statistics and demographics and highlighted partnerships inside and outside the community.
“When I think about it, when I flip through this presentation, it really makes me feel just so good about where we live and the people that we work with every day, because we have such strong partners all around the county — townships, municipalities, nonprofits all work so well during a tough year,” Schmenk said.
She said county agencies and entities have always worked well together, but a year like 2020 highlights how vital partnerships are.
“I really learned the importance of working together, how important it is to expect the expertise of other organizations that are not direct county entities,” Schmenk said, specifically mentioning the health department and the Emergency Management Agency.
She said those agencies are “under the county umbrella, but we do not directly control them.”
“I learned none of us entities should be going alone when it comes to important initiatives in our county. We are going to be so much stronger if we continue to work together,” Schmenk said.
The commissioner said the county’s greatest challenge is also an opportunity.
“The biggest challenge, but it is also a blessing and an opportunity, is growth,” Schmenk said. “How do we plan better for growth, whether it is in housing, or transportation or even communications.”
She added that, “all those areas of growth, we will need to work hard.”
County officials said they understand this presentation is coming later in the year than other similar documents.
“The reality is, with two new commissioners involved, there has been kind of a learning period,” Schmenk said. “This was something we wanted them to get comfortable with, so we did not even really start it until late February, just trying to help them get educated with what their roles looks like and how we work together.”
She said there was also “almost twice as many people who needed to review and approve it.”
The document is the first of its kind for Union County.
“It is something I have wanted to see the county do since I took office,” said Schmenk. “I think as our county grows, hopefully, we will have more and more people interested in county government and want to understand what we do and who does what.”
Schmenk said she has seen other counties do a State of the County presentation.
She said she hopes locally that it will “spark more and more interest, whether that is people getting involved in county government, giving us input and suggestions or running for county office or just giving us more feedback of what they would like in the county.”
She said that for the inaugural effort, officials did not want to overwhelm readers or participants.
“In the future, I’d like to get a lot more in-depth with things like financial information, but for the first time it really was a thought process: how do we get started? The end result was to start at a high level for our first time.”
She added, “there was just a lot of thinking through what should we try to do the first time we do this.”
She said that in addition to the two new commissioners, Dave Burke and Steve Robinson, officials want the two recently retired commissioners, Charles Hall and Steve Stolte, to review the document.
“The good thing is every one of us is satisfied with the process and the end result so it was worth the time,” Schmenk said.
She said this is a process she hopes will repeat in years moving forward.
“This is year one and it is a recognition that we want to show the public what we do, we want their input,” Schmenk said. “Hopefully we will see bigger and better ones in the future.”
The commissioners have said they would be “pleased to present the State of the County 2020 to area organizations.” Those interested are encouraged to call the commissioners at (937) 645-3012.
“The county is strong.”