JASPER, Tenn. — The only way to address problems is to make a plan, and that's what the Marion County Commission has been doing recently.
At the board's April meeting, County Mayor David Jackson said Marion leaders had a lengthy strategic planning meeting in February.
Beth Jones, executive director for the Southeast Tennessee Development District, said county leaders came together over two days to examine a number of issues facing Marion.
"Not only did they talk with one another, but also listened to some outside professionals who came in to provide some information," she said.
It wasn't just problems that the commissioners explored, though.
Jones said they looked at some of the successes that were accomplished by the board in the last year.
"I want to highlight those because we often get caught up in our challenges, and we don't take enough time to take a look at the things that we were able to accomplish when we work together for the better good of the county," she said.
Among the successes, Jones said county leaders were able to cut drastically the medical costs at the Marion jail, open an advanced manufacturing program at the Marion County Regional Institute for Higher Education, and fund school resource officers at all Marion public schools.
"Those are just some of the success," she said.
Jones said strategic planning has been very successful in nearby counties, and it's going to be necessary for Marion to accomplish even more.
"It's kind of like when you plan your vacation," she said. "You have a plan. So, you know where you're going to go, you have a consensus about what you want to do, and you kind of figure out where you want to spend your resources because they're scarce."
The board focused on the issues of educational attainment, workforce development and educational facility needs, among other problems facing the county.
"We spent a lot of time talking about detention facilities and what that looks like going forward in the future relative to the new governor's initiative about prison release and looking at what our current capacity is," Jones said.
In February, Marion's jail was at 107% capacity.
The biggest problem area discussed was the deterioration of infrastructure and the need for new infrastructure.
"Water, sewer, broadband, roads — it was all kinds of infrastructure that was talked about in order to grow the county," Jones said.
The board's top priorities included aging infrastructure, expansion of the Marion County Regional Institute for Higher Education, a centralized county financial system, online payment methods, and increasing jail capacity.
Commission Chairman David Abbott said county leaders appreciated Jones and the development district's efforts to help Marion address those issues.
"This is something we want to focus on — what we can do for the future of our county. If we can't plan for it, it's awfully hard to make it happen," Abbott said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org