October 19, 2012
By Nick Crow
Freeport, Ill. — The Rural Affairs Council, headed by Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, has adopted a plan aiming to improve state services for rural residents.
“The vision of the Rural Affairs Council builds on two years’ worth of leg work,” said Simon’s spokeswoman Kathryn Phillips. “We used the polling of rural residents and listening posts to compile the data that we will use to improve the quality of life in rural communities.”
Simon visited Freeport in April as part of her “Rural Listening Post” tour. At the meeting, residents and local stakeholders were asked what issues were important to them by using a series of surveys. The second part of the session involved roundtable discussions on topics given by a moderator. The point of the tour was to find out what issues are most important to residents of rural areas in Illinois.
“There’s a lot of communication barriers,” said Phillips. “Rural residents sometimes feel that they are not being listened to. We want is to be know that when you build this road or invest in this project, what the impact will be on different communities.”
The findings were released by Simon’s office on Wednesday and were dubbed “The Vision for Rural Illinois.”
“We’re trying to do our part,” said Phillips. “We’ve done some listening and visioning now it’s time to take action.”
A major finding in the report was a need for more effective expression of information to the rural public about existing programs and services offered by state agencies. Also, it was found that most rural residents don’t look to the state or federal government to solve their problems by creating new programs, but prefer that state leaders simplify and modify policy and legislation to better serve their areas. They also would like representation from someone who properly represents their interests.
“We’ve talked about legislative process and the impact on rural communities,” said Phillips. “There’s certainly a Chicago and outside Chicago mentality. There are so many similarities between people from Freeport, with unemployment and schools, to people in neighborhoods in Chicago. They deal with the same issues, and we hope to improve relations with this.”
These findings were reviewed in August and September and led to three recommendations for action by the Rural Affairs Council.
“We want to find ways to tackle existing challenges and help people to find out about programs that may help them that they may not know about,” said Phillips.
The three initiatives that were targeted for implementation are to “enhance the access to services for rural Illinois, empower (or position) rural Illinois for the future, and to move rural emergency medical service (EMS) forward.”
Their goals are to help rural residents to access programs available to them by helping them to become more aware of what is offered. By empowering rural Illinois for the future, they hope to raise the awareness of legislators so that bills will include needs of rural residents when they are considered.
“I think the process that we have gone through has been important,” said Phillips. “The next step is action based, to put good ideas into practice.”
Now that the council has created working groups to tackle these tasks, they hope to have final recommendations by June 2013.