Strategic plan maps out Allegan County’s priorities

The Allegan County Board of Commissioners recently approved its updated strategic plan that maps out long- and short-term goals, based in part on essential community input.

The five-year plan’s top goals include outlining the county’s mission, expanding broadband service, repurposing a county building, achieving a united county workforce, and committing to respect the dignity of everyone at all times. The full strategic plan can be read here.
Rob Sarro
“A plan like this is so important because it sets the direction and sets the tone, and basically allows us to allocate and use our resources to accomplish those things,” says Robert “Rob” Sarro, county administrator. “I think it’s very important for an appointed administration to understand the Board's expectations in county government because it’s not a check-and-balance relationship, it’s a supportive relationship.”

The plan’s list of priorities includes:
  • Closing the digital divide. Allegan County is among the fastest-growing counties in Michigan. The population of Allegan in 2021 was 120,950, up 8.5% from the 111,521 who lived there in 2010, according to USAFacts. Allegan County's population increased in 10 of the 11 years between 2010 and 2021.
Allegan County Commisison Chairman Jim Storey
Steady population growth is all the more reason access to broadband needs to expand in the county, according to Jim Storey, board chair and commissioner for District 1.

“We’re the fourth-fastest-growing county in the state. So the pressure, due to our lack of access to high-speed internet, grew up from that fact,” says Storey.

Interest in broadband heightened when notice of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds became available. The county soon sought input from the community, and high-speed internet rose to the top as a concern. Utilizing ARPA funding then became a priority to Allegan County’s 2021-22 strategic plan.

Now, Southfield-based internet service provider 123Net has filed an application for a $30 million grant on behalf of the county to the state’s Realizing Opportunities with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN), which will provide a third of the financing needed for high-speed internet infrastructure.

“We know government access can’t just happen during the lunch hour,” says Sarro. “The broadband access is going to allow some existing services to (operate at) their maximum capacity because the digital divide in the county (will have been bridged). Once we’re able to resolve that, there’s a lot of services we can bring to the people, and that’s important in a 900-square-mile county.”

At the moment, Allegan County is awaiting word from the state of Michigan about ROBIN funding, according to Storey, which will make some available online services a more cost-effective option for the county.

“And if we get that, we’re optimistic we can start construction still this year,” says Storey. “In 18 months, I’d like to see the county fully wired — 24 months at the outside.”
  • Maintain employee labor relations. The county has been implementing employee engagement strategies for several years including a collaborative approach to bargaining. By Dec. 31, 2026, the board hopes to have 12 collective bargaining agreements ratified, signed, and posted to the county’s website.
  • Countywide survey. Allegan County residents were surveyed last year regarding the services available to residents. County officials and a handful of nonprofits that serve the county (Allegan Area Educational Service Agency, Community Action of Allegan County, On Point, and Allegan County United Way) hired a national company, Polco’s National Research Center, to conduct the survey, which was mailed to selected residents and completed online. The same firm was hired to accomplish a similar survey in 2019.

Key findings of the recent survey include:
  1. Residents appreciate Allegan County’s natural environment and recreational opportunities.
  2. While there have been small gains in the local economy, it remains an area of opportunity.
  3. Allegan County’s engagement is on the rise, and residents feel a strong sense of community.
  4. The majority of residents continue to perceive Allegan County as a safe place to live.
Dan Wedge, executive director of services for Allegan County
“The board took a hard look at the research from our citizens as to the things they thought were important, and this strategic plan greatly aligns with (those things). The board has incorporated that into our strategic plan so that it follows what our community was telling us,” says Dan Wedge, executive director of services for the county.

“The survey looks at 10 major factors. Some of the different topics that were recommended include child care, housing, broadband, law enforcement, recycling, older adults service, and public transit,” adds Wedge. “Some of the projects listed in the previous strategic plan continue on and, again, they align with what this (recent) community survey said.”

  • Repurposing a building. The board unanimously voted in favor of converting the Allegan County building for sole use as a courthouse. The project is needed to accommodate the additional circuit court judge the state approved for the county.
  • Shared values that will guide the county in delivering services. This includes respect, integrity, commitment, and honesty as the foundation for all county board members and employees in their words, deeds, and actions in providing services to the citizens of Allegan County.
Key findings of the recent Allegan County resident survey include residents' appreciation of the county's natural environment and recreational opportunities.
“It’s the whole culture question, which is: Are the people on the payroll, including the county commissioners, do the people serve them or do we serve the people?” says Storey. “Sometimes, that gets lost and sometimes it’s what I call ‘soft arrogance.’ We don’t know all the answers to the problems that arise. We do not. And so we need to continue to remind ourselves we’re here to serve the people who support us with their tax dollars and who expect us to deliver (solutions) in an efficient manner.”

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Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.