To the Valley News:
We’re all comfortable with what we know. It’s change that we fear. But change is happening all around us, every minute of every day. We can’t stop change and we can’t hide from it. But we can plan for it.
In the year 2000, Elizabethtown had 1,315 people. By the 2010 census, we had lost 152 people and dropped to 1,163, a decrease of 12 percent. It was the largest population decline in Essex County. Fewer people mean fewer customers, and failing businesses. In the past several months our town lost a used furniture store and Wilson’s Appliance/Radio Shack on Water Street. Apartments remain vacant and houses go unsold.
In August the Town Board starts planning for 2014. We’re almost half way through the second decade, and by 2020, just six years from now, our town will have changed even more. If we loose another 12 percent of our people, we’ll be at 1,023. Fewer people mean loss of retail stores, restaurants and services. Empty buildings and vacant lots don’t pay taxes. Unused properties turn ugly when they’re not cared for. This is the kind of change we should all fear, the kind of change that drives people and businesses away.
What we need to do is to attract people to Elizabethtown, welcome people who will support our businesses by shopping here, eating here, and buying homes. We need young families with children to keep our school alive (school population dropped 25 percent in 10 years). People with kids like playgrounds, parks and child friendly sports. Families spend money in our stores and restaurants, and buy homes with plenty of room to play. These families hire plumbers and carpenters, and they’ll buy paint and tools at the hardware store. More people will mean more businesses opening, and fewer shops closing.
These newcomers are not strangers and we shouldn’t fear them. They may be our children or our grandchildren, or retirees who have vacationed here for years and fell in love with Elizabethtown. They’ll join our fire company, support our churches and best of all, they will pay a share of the taxes. But people and businesses won’t come to a town of empty stores, crumbling houses and vacant lots.
What is the future of Elizabethtown? Do we have an idea? Do we have a plan? Or will we just let things happen? Will we be better or worse in 2020? If we want to survive, we need to plan for the future, a plan that we will create, and a vision of what we want Elizabethtown to be in a decade. This is the only way we’ll have control over our own future.
The Chamber of Commerce encourages and promotes our businesses. The Town Board has the legal responsibility to approve or disapprove the plan drafted by our Planning Board, but the ideas in it have come from the people of our town. Many folks have told me they would like to have a carwash, a Laundromat, a Deli, a sporting goods store, a bakery, high speed internet beyond the hamlet, cable TV, better cell phone coverage, better parking and more jobs.
No government can bring these services to us. Only a vital and growing community will attract the kinds of businesses we want. The future is in our hands. What happens in the next decade is up to us. Doing nothing will only guarantee failure.
Margaret Bartley, Supervisor
Town of Elizabethtown