Community review team addresses Aberdeen’s strengths, weaknesses

After months of planning and preparing, a community review was held in Aberdeen this past week, where volunteers from around the state visited the community, focusing on three major areas: economic development, infrastructure and Main Street revitalization.

Part of the review, prior to the team’s arrival, also included finding out from area residents through surveys what they felt was good about Aberdeen and where they felt improvements could be made.

Jon Barrett of Clearstory Studios in Boise led the visiting team for the community review. He gave an overview of what occurred to start the process of the review. In a meeting on March 4, he told members of the community about the local teams, how the review was paid for and part of the process.

The cost of the community review was paid for with donations from Monsanto and INL plus local community members Driscoll Farms, US Bank, Idaho Power, Idaho Select and many others not named. Idaho Rural Project, which helps communities receive the reviews, started in 1991 and is a partnership between federal, state, local, tribal, profit and non-profit organizations. They started community reviews in 2000. American Falls had a community review in 2008. Kristin Jensen, executive director for Great Rift Business Development Organization (GRBDO), helped with the American Falls review and gave valuable advice during the process of applying for the Aberdeen community review.

The Aberdeen City Council has been preparing for the community review for months. They formed committees that worked on ideas for new economic development, infrastructure and Main Street revitalization. Team leaders for the committees were Mayor Morgan Anderson and council members Mary Leisy and Karalee Krehbiel-Bonson. The process of the community review began this time last year with the approval of having a community review being done.

Leisy, who also serves on the GRBDO, spearheaded the forming of committees for each group and making plans for the community review. Every council member was involved in the process in some way, whether serving on a committee or providing feedback to the council about different areas.

Anderson oversaw the economic development team. His team members included Dirk Driscoll, Ladd Carter, Herb Bohrer, Irene Barrett and Misty Wallace. This team focused on business and making connections between the business, new and old.

Leisy headed the infrastructure team. Team members Alice Peterson, Russ Sidel, Brian Schneider and Craig Wampler showed the visiting team the wastewater project, the airport and Sportsman Park. They looked at how to improve these structures to benefit the community.

Krehbiel-Bonzon spearheaded the downtown revitalization team looking how to improve the look of Main Street. Helping her were Jolyn Corbridge, DeDe Nelson and Jeremy Sattison. They looked at the buildings and structures on Main Street.

One of the first things the council needed for the community review was a survey. Residents of Aberdeen were sent a survey to complete questions asking about city streets, bike and pedestrian access, sidewalk access, law enforcement, the fire department, water services, sewage treatment, the airport, library, school facilities, quality of education, general health care needs, EMT services, food bank, day care, senior programs, drug and alcohol treatment programs, internet service, arts and cultural opportunities, parks and recreation programs.

A total of 217 surveys were returned with 30 percent completion rate. Responders included both English and Spanish residents. Approximately 30 percent of Aberdeen resident were both satisfied and dissatisfied with the appearance of Main Street. Residents felt that housing availability and quality of housing were okay. They expressed dissatisfaction with the appearance of public buildings and felt they could be improved. The availability and quality of jobs were restricted to farmers. Teenagers and high school graduates find it hard to obtain jobs other than agriculture-related which means many of the young adults leave town to find work. They are satisfied with the variety of local business and their involvement in the community. They wish there were more job training programs available especially in the vocational areas. One issue talked about was the lack of variety and sometimes unavailability of products. One major issue brought in the survey was the lack of lodging for out of town visitors. This issue was linked to entertainment, cultural events and available activities for adults and teens.

After compiling the survey results, the visiting team held an information meeting to find out what were the challenges facing the community, what the assets of the community were and what the residents liked and disliked.

Several listening groups were held with different groups within the community. These listening groups were held Wednesday, March 5. They met with groups including the high school students, agricultural leaders, social services, law enforcement, EMT’s, the faith community, senior citizens and the Hispanic population.

Some of the things mentioned at the Tuesday meeting were wants and don’t want. Many residents expressed the opinion that they didn’t want to continue losing jobs (especially for young adults), and they expressed a concern about people working in Aberdeen but living elsewhere. They expressed concern that the community is still partially divided through lack of communication, a decline in young adult population and nothing for the teens to do.

Some things they want for Aberdeen are fun things for the youth and adults, more business on Main Street, people to buy in Aberdeen, competitive prices, beautification of Main Street and a better communication between the many different faiths and ethnic groups within the community.

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