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Morgan must get ahead of growth curve

July 10, 2005

By John C. Webster

After three years of intensive work related to the future of Morgan County, W.Va., it is my considered opinion that we need three things (in addition to the comprehensive plan) to better prepare us for an imminent tidal wave of development that will otherwise overwhelm us.

1. Long range strategic planner. Jefferson County has realized, after the fact, that it should have had an independent, long-range strategic planner years ago - in addition to its existing staff of planners. It is now in the process of hiring someone who is qualified to put together a master plan providing the context within which all future planning will be considered.

As a garden designer, the hardest thing to communicate to my clients was the need for a fairly detailed master concept plan within which changes could be made as needed. The comprehensive plan developed for Morgan County in 1985 was filled with great information and many good ideas, but no overall guiding concept of how to implement them or how everything would work together as a whole. As a result, it was never used, and we continue to see the unfortunate side effects.

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The leader of one of Morgan County's largest industries told me recently that his company could not reasonably plan its own future because there was no overall strategic plan for the county. It is critically important that we do not waste our tax dollars on another comprehensive plan that has no more real value than that of the paper on which it is printed. We literally and figuratively cannot afford to do so.

2. Citizen's advisory group. Call it what you may (be it a civic association, a visionary council, or a citizens advisory group), but we need a group of citizens who will meet on a regular basis to interpret, discuss and advise the planning commission, county commissioners and economic development council on specific aspects of a long-range strategic plan (based on ideas contained in the new comprehensive plan). This would be the forum for real citizen input and discussion on a continuing basis, and ideas would be considered for both a majority consensus and dissenting opinions. Barbara Tutor's comprehensive plan focus groups will be a good starting point for this.

Intelligent decisions require public input and review on both sides of an issue and would lead to a more satisfactory outcome on the many problems that we now face and will face in the future. Winchester, Va. (including its surrounding communities), already has a functioning group that works with the various county commissions and economic development councils and advises them regularly, based on consensus building through public input.

3. Five-member County Commission - Again, Jefferson County has realized the need to have greater diversity of knowledge and opinion on its county commission. Berkeley County is also considering a five-member commission because a three-member commission cannot possibly handle the work required to run a rapidly developing county.

Morgan County is logically the next county that needs to take this step, and it would put us in a much better position to handle the changes that are coming. We have to get ahead of the game by creating a long-range strategic plan for Morgan County, by having it openly discussed in public forum and by having both consensus and dissenting opinions presented to an expanded county commission that is willing to follow its primary objective as set by West Virginia Law: To do everything within its power to promote the health, safety and general welfare of its citizens.

It will take much more than a crystal ball to lead us into the future.




John C. Webster is a resident of New Hope, W.Va.

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