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Population loss in Rock Island remains a challenge as council works on strategic plan
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Population loss in Rock Island remains a challenge as council works on strategic plan

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Population loss in Rock Island remains an ongoing challenge, affecting the economy, housing and employment. 

Rock Island City Council members met Monday night for a planning session to conduct an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the city, naming the loss of residents and difficulty in filling city positions as some of the city's weaknesses. 

The city's population dropped to about 39,000 residents in 2010, and by 2020, the number of residents had declined to fewer than 37,000. 

"It's a 5% decline since 2010," Ward 3 Alderwoman Judith Gilbert said. "I looked up what our decline has been, and in the last two decades, we were at a 2% decline. The decline is accelerating. 

"When your population is declining, you can't continue to provide the same services you were providing when you had 51,000 residents, and now you're looking at 37,000 residents."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rock Island suffered its largest population loss between 1980 and 1990, losing more than 6,000 people during the decade, dropping from 46,821 to 40,522 residents. The loss represents a 13% decline in population.

Another weakness named by Council members Monday was the loss of city staff and the difficulty in filling open positions.

Human Resources Director Rob Baugous said the city currently had 30 regular full-time open positions. Finance director and building inspector are among the open positions. The city's website shows 24 open positions, ranging from full-time salaried workers to hourly seasonal public works employees.

After former Economic Development Director Chandler Poole was terminated in October 2019, it took the city nearly two years to hire his replacement, Nathan Parch, who started as director in May.   

The position of finance director has been open since the departure of Stephanie Masson several months ago, and City Manager Randy Tweet has announced he will retire in December.

Council members also named many strengths in the city, including diversity of race and culture, parks and recreation opportunities, historically rich communities, neighborhood identity and unique small businesses within the city. 

After Monday's data is compiled by the University of Illinois Extension, the top five choices from each category of the session will help inform the city’s strategic planning document.

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