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Steuben County produces first-ever comprehensive plan, a roadmap for major municipal projects for the next 20 years

Steuben County produced its first-ever comprehensive plan to guide major projects in the county. The document identifies nine policy areas to focus on for the next 15-20 years.

The final draft took 18 months to produce and included public input sessions throughout the county. It was approved on Jan. 22 at the full meeting of the legislature.

“I think it was a very important hurdle that we got through,” said Marie Myers-Shearing, the county planning director.

Myers-Shearing oversaw the project along with county legislators, staff and agencies—in a steering committee that worked with Rochester consulting firm MRB Group.

“There’s a long way to go but at least this gives us some direction,” she said. “It tells us where we are right now and that we have goals as to what we’re gonna try to achieve.”

Steuben County has a total population of 93,584 per data from the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the document, the population in the county declined by 5.4 percent from 2010-2020. The county expects that number to reach 6 percent by 2040.

The aging population makes up nearly 30 percent of county residents who are 60 years or older. Over the next 15 years, the population is expected to continue to get smaller and older.

Ninety-three percent of the county’s population identifies as white or non-hispanic. All other races make up under 2 percent each of the overall population: Hispanic or Latino, 1.8 percent, Black or African American, 1.7 percent, two or more races, 1.7 percent, and Asian, 1.6 percent.

Top employers are Corning Incorporated, Alstom Transportation Inc., Guthrie Medical Group, Arnot Health, local governments and school districts. Data from the census listed the median household income from 2018-2022 as $62,506.

The comprehensive plan states that Steuben County boasts the most farms per county in New York including dairy, livestock, produce and other crops.

Affordable housing stock is listed as a surplus. However, the document states many of these properties are older and in need of substantial upgrades.

The nine policy areas named have a focus on infrastructure issues such as housing, broadband, transportation and climate strategies. The plan also outlines other important areas like agriculture, economic and workforce development and tourism.

The plan breaks down these large projects into actionable steps of one-year increments during the next five years.

“Some of the projects will need funding,” explained Myers-Shearing. “Funding isn’t immediate. It could take a couple of years to get those funds. So, it’s organized in a couple of different fashions. How much money is it going to be? When’s a good time to do it? Five years seems feasible to do some of those projects.”

The plan explains how municipalities can begin to think about upgrading utility, broadband and clean energy infrastructure. Additional projects include flood protection, community redevelopment and revitalization.

Steuben County would also like to focus on land bank inventory to revitalize properties for reuse. And increase what it calls “shovel-ready sites” for business development with an emphasis on manufacturing.

A comprehensive plan can be a guidepost for municipalities to use when building their budgets, planning projects and applying to federal and state grants.

“The county completing a comp plan, a comprehensive plan helps every single municipality in this county that they can say, see, it's in the county comp plan that they need to work on water, sewer, etc.,” said Chris Brewer, deputy county manager for Steuben County. “And that is points in their favor on that grant.”

It cost $100,000 in total to contract with MRB Group to produce the comprehensive plan, according to Brewer. Funding came from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Brewer said an oversight committee will meet regularly to check in on benchmarks and follow up with the legislature. It is unclear when the oversight committee will be formed and who will be included as committee members.