Lee County Commissioners discuss Master Plan, but disagree on what to emphasize

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by Greg Markley
Political Writer

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett once said: “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” It was with an eye on planting a tree today for Lee County’s future that commissioners met Tuesday to discuss a strategic Master Plan.

District 2 Commissioner Johnny Lawrence said the goal should be to create a “living document,” or long-range road map for the county. He said commissioners do not want to work on a Master Plan that ends up sitting in a drawer like so many government studies do..

“The first thing we should do is see if we are meeting our expectations given our budget constraints,” Lawrence said. District 1 Commissioner Sheila Eckman said commissioners should not promote their own ideas as much as share details about directions the county could go in. But clearly commissioners disagreed on what are the most pressing needs of Lee citizens.

“I don’t hear much about recreation in District 3, because Smiths Station has recreation,” explained Commissioner Gary Long. “What we get pounded on is roads and traffic.” But Commissioner Robert Ham from District 4 said there needed to be more emphasis on recreation.

Probate Judge Bill English, commission chairman, said it is not the quality of county roads that makes residents feel “insecure,” it is public safety issues. He added that in his contact with constituents, recreation is not talked about nearly as much as public safety.

Lawrence said actions such as the recent voter approval of higher fire fees that support volunteer fire departments not only enhance safety but encourage economic development. According to Lawrence, as businessmen learn good fire service is available in the county, they will be more inclined to open stores.

But Ham said that economic development for county areas should not copy some of the approaches of Auburn and Opelika. “Having something like an industrial park would be a disaster for us,” he reflected. “We’d be competing with our two economic engines (the cities).”

Lawrence said any Master Plan should look into combining services when possible, as was done when the jails at the Opelika and Auburn Police Departments merged with the county detention center. Also worth pursuing will be projects similar to cooperative efforts at Auburn University Regional Airport, Lawrence said.

Commissioner John Andrew Harris of District 5 was not present. Lee County Administrator Roger Rendleman said another meeting on the subject will be arranged.

He said there is no deadline on the Plan but that officials recognize strategic planning is very important.

Warren Buffett, the investing “Wizard of Omaha,” would agree.

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