Following the 2015 flood, a Joint Powers Board was created to further assist in the reconstruction of Niobrara County. The Joint Powers Board includes a member from each town, representative for the county, and a ‘member-at-large’ of the community, their names and respected towns include: Patti Matthews, Van Tassel; Becky Blackburn, Lusk; Rola Ross, Manville; Richard Ladwig, Niobrara County; and Bruce Filener, community-member-at-large. Following the creation of the board, applications were open for the Disaster Recovery Manager position. After the process of hiring was complete, Dell Atkinson was welcomed into the job. Through the boards work and Atkinson’s work, a community forum was held last week at the fairgrounds to gain more information on what the citizens of Niobrara County would like to see as we as a community move forward. Retention of Niobrara County citizens, affordable rental property, and childcare are among the top concerns for many locals, and has been for the last few years. With the assistance of Allison Mouch and Joanne Garnett, both from Orion Planning and Design, a study concerning how to move forward and in what areas was conducted in the days leading up to the community forum. During these studies, various key components were identified and discussed in round-table formats including: Downtown Revitalization, Tourism, Local Economy, Environment, Agriculture and Ranching, Housing, Youth Education, and Retention.
The Community Forum itself was not the traditional seminar. Instead, the forum was held in the kitchen area of the fairgrounds with three stations set up for those attending. Beginning with Garnett’s station, attendees were asked to write three things they valued about Niobrara County and place them on the maps. For items that couldn’t be placed on the maps, such as appreciating the quality of people in Niobrara County, there was a poster board on the wall beside her table. Moving on to the second station with Mouch, attendees were asked to write down three things that they would like to see in Niobrara County and place them on the same maps; an accompanying poster board was also beside her station. For the last few years the main concerns, as mentioned above, have been retention of Niobrara County citizens, affordable rental property, and childcare. This activity brought to light other items locals wouldn’t mind seeing including a movie theatre, further development of the Business Park and economic growth, and, as has been heavily discussed in the last year, moving forward with plans for a recreation center. The third and final station was what attendees hoped to see twenty years down the road for Niobrara County. The key highlight here was a larger, grown, community.
Following the forum, both Mouch and Garnett will review forum information and information from the meetings leading up the forum, along with information previously gathered, and then will construct their report on what and how would be the best steps to move forward. “When we finish this up, we’ll have a comprehensive plan for the community. Not just Lusk, but Manville and Van Tassel. They [Mouch and Garnett] will take all the information back, analyze, create strategies and plans to send back” states Atkinson. Once the strategic plans return, Atkinson plans to hold another community forum; “We want this to be a county plan that we can all get behind and know where we’re going”.