Planning Commission holds first visioning session to shape future of county
The Derrick, 4/11/02 By LISA THOMPSON

Special thanks to The Derrick for permitting this story to be posted

When Geraldine Wike graduated from high school in Mercer County, she crossed the county line to Venango because there was work here. Good jobs in vibrant communities.

That is no longer true, the southern Venango County woman lamented in a community brainstorming session held Wednesday at Franklin High School.

"I think we need to get back to the way Venango was," she said.

If there was consensus about anything at the Venango County Planning Commission's visioning session, it was consensus about the need for more jobs. Jobs for young people. Jobs for families. Jobs with living wages. Jobs that are high tech.

"I'd like to see companies come in here so we can see families stay here, so people can have a decent standard of living," said one man.

About a dozen area residents met at the school in the first of six public hearings scheduled this month to gather input on Venango County's future. They listed the counties assets and weaknesses and named goals for its future.

Things envisioned ranged from creating a nursing college and veterans hospital at the old Oil City hospital to modernizing county government by creating a county manager.

One man wants to fill the empty upstairs rooms and offices of Oil City's commercial district with cottage industries and connect them with covered bridges. That way visitors could visit a veritable warren of craft and food shops high above town without ever going outside, he said.

Another man, noting abysmal voter turnout patterns, wants someone to salvage democracy in the county.

"I'd like to see a drive on getting people out to vote," he said.

The meetings that continue at 7 p.m. today at Cranberry High School are part of the ongoing effort to update the county's voluminous comprehensive plan. That document, last updated more than 20 years ago, will help guide development of everything from transportation and education to the economy over the next 10 years or so. State law requires that counties have a comprehensive plan.

The process began last month with the mailing of surveys to 3,000 randomly selected residents. Focus groups organized under the topics of jobs; education and youth; recreation and life quality; government services; and land use, transportation and infrastructure are also working to generate input for the new plan.

With county commissioner Bob Murray acting as moderator, residents who met Wednesday got their chance to chime in. They listed the county's assets and issues and things they'd like to see 20 years from now.

The asset list filled quickly - natural beauty, natural resources, air and rail service, a dedicated workforce, recreational facilities and parks, a rich historical heritage, and good schools.

But just as quickly came the areas that need work - decaying neighborhoods and infrastructure, empty downtown storefronts, taxes, crime, poor workforce development resources, youth flight.

In the future the group said it hopes to see Polk Center put to some use, streamlined government and school administration, tax reform, and jobs.

All the input drummed up Wednesday was collected by Richard Sutter of Sutter and Associates. That firm, along with the planning commission and VanLandingham Consulting from central Pennsylvania, ultimately will produce the new comprehensive plan. It will then be presented to the county commissioners for adoption next year

New county planning director Bill Walker, along with committee chair Ricky Lee Flack, is leading the effort. They are aided by a volunteer steering committee of 16 men and two women.

For more information, residents can contact Bill Walker at 677-3152, extension 22, or

Organizers say those who get involved will have the chance to help shape the future of everything from jobs, schools, roads and play to neighborhoods, drug treatment - even Victorian architecture. They want residents to share their ideas.