Little Falls Mayor Mark Blask takes to the podium as officials from municipalities across Herkimer County joined The Community Foundation in announcing the launch of a process that will lead to a county-wide community development plan.

by Dave Warner

Officials from municipalities across Herkimer County joined The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties Wednesday in announcing the launch of a process that will lead to a county-wide community development plan.

Town supervisors, village mayors, and county leaders joined Community Foundation board members and staff for the briefing and news conference in the Herkimer County legislative chambers, formally announcing the selection of a consulting firm that will guide the process of constituent engagement and plan development.

Last year, officials announced a partnership with the Community Foundation to identify opportunities for economic growth and community prosperity through a shared vision and strategy for development throughout the county.

Alicia Dicks, Community Foundation President, and CEO said, “Our elected officials and the County have worked with us for over eighteen months as a team to bring us a strategic plan of how to work together in Herkimer County.”

“Working to create a community development plan is an important step in ensuring that Herkimer County continues to enhance opportunities for collaboration to benefit the entire county,” said Mark Blask, Mayor of Little Falls, who had been identified as a champion of the concept. “There are certainly problems in Herkimer County. The poverty level in rural areas is high, joblessness from 18-24 is out of whack and some of the addiction numbers are not trending like we would want them to.”

Blask went on to say that when you recognize a problem, you can either do nothing, and hope that it improves, which he felt was not a strong strategy, or that all of the municipalities could come together and try to solve some of these issues.

“This partnership and our work with the consultants will form the basis for exploring the best possible outcomes through resident and constituent engagement,” stated Blask.

Blask also believes that a lot of what they are going to be doing will be driven by the public. “We need input. This is not Chairman Bono’s plan, not Mayor Netti’s plan, and it’s certainly not mine. This is Herkimer County’s plan and the people who live here.”

There are going to be meetings and surveys as part of the process, and county officials will be soliciting input from their citizens. “There are 62,000 people who live in Herkimer County and we’re going to go from north to south and east to west. We’re going to play to our strengths – tourism, short commutes, a strong workforce, a beautiful area, safe, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

Fairweather Consulting of New Paltz, a community planning and organizational consulting firm, will guide the year-long process, working with constituents across the county. The plan will focus on outcomes that include collaboration, connectivity, economic and agribusiness development and tourism.

Incorporating these components into a single community development plan will help municipal government officials coordinate long-term development goals, strengthening the area’s economy.

Herkimer County Legislature Chairman Vincent J. Bono said, “We want to look at Herkimer County without borders, where you can go from Frankfort to Dolgeville and think you are in the same home town you were in ten minutes ago.”

Blask said, “The whole idea is to stop looking at lines on a map in Herkimer County but to look at it as a whole. We just want to learn from each other.”

“This is going to be a needle mover, it’s all good,” said Bono.

“Leadership at all levels of government is taking this process to the next level, and it’s an exciting time for those who understand Herkimer County’s tremendous potential,” said Dicks.

“Our role as a community partner was and is to act as a catalyst and collaborator, addressing longstanding challenges in the two counties we serve. I’m confident that this announcement marks another turning point for regional cooperation, one that will support and enhance this area’s future growth,” she said.

The total cost for the plan is $216,000 and Dicks went on to say that it will take a full year to get the plan right.

The Community Foundation has been committed to a better future for Herkimer and Oneida counties since 1952. Donor generosity continues to build on $85 million of community investment in transformational initiatives, collaborative leadership, and grantmaking. Learn more at foundationhoc.org or call 315-735-8212.