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RICHMOND, Ind. — Wayne County's collaborative effort paid off.
Its application was selected for participation in the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program.
Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Indiana's Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced the nine participants selected for three cohorts. Those selected will work with state universities and agencies to develop a Strategic Investment Plan that most effectively invests Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“This new program presents a unique opportunity for communities,” Crouch said in a news release. “Those chosen to participate in HELP will learn how to best spend their recovery funds in order to create a lasting positive impact and legacy in their area.”
Wayne County was placed in the third cohort with Connersville and Franklin County. That cohort is scheduled to begin near the beginning of 2023. Auburn, Jay County and Kosciusko County comprise the first cohort to begin this coming January, and Daviess County, Dubois County and Vincennes are the second cohort to begin mid-year 2022.
“HELP builds upon the successes of the Stellar program, while also adapting to best respond to the current challenges Indiana communities are facing,” said OCRA Executive Director Denny Spinner. “Those chosen for this program have exhibited a great dedication to community engagement and development and we look forward to working with each of them during this process.”
The Wayne County application included the county, Richmond, Cambridge City, Dublin, East Germantown, Economy, Milton and Spring Grove. Each entity was required to commit 30% of its ARPA allocation for projects identified during the year-long planning process. The county committed $10 million of its $12.8 million allocation.
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More Wayne County communities will now have the opportunity to join the project, as well. Commissioner Jeff Plasterer, who led the application process along with the city of Richmond's Beth Fields, said he will work with additional towns to gauge their interest.
“We plan to go back to them and talk to them," he said. "Now that we know we’re going to participate and what the time frame is, are you interested in giving this further consideration?”
The county and all the individual communities retain control over spending their ARPA dollars on the qualifying projects they choose. The hope is the investments create generational change.
“This is a opportunity to lay the groundwork for significant growth,” Plasterer said.
OCRA chose during the COVID-19 pandemic to create the HELP program in place of its previous Stellar Communities program. Each selected applicant was promised it would have an additional $1 million reserved for its use. It's unknown whether additional grant dollars could become available from state agencies.
The news release said participants will work with the Indiana Arts Council, Indiana Department of Transportation, Indiana Department of Health, Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, CivicLab and NEXT Studios.
They also will receive guidance from four universities: Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement (community wellness projects), Purdue University Center for Regional Development (econnectivity projects), Ball State Indiana Communities Institute (quality of life projects) and Ivy Tech Community College (local economy projects).
“Having IU and others assist with that is going to be incredibly helpful, and we certainly will be watching what’s going on in the other communities," Plasterer said. "We’ve been told by OCRA that part of the process is to be able to develop networks with the other participants to share from their experience and for them to share in ours. That will be helpful.”
Wayne County already has relationships with Connersville's Fayette County through the five-county Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and with Jay County through the 10-county East Central Indiana Regional Partnership. Plasterer said he's been assured information obtained through HELP may be shared with those organizations' other counties.
Being selected for the third cohort benefits Wayne County's process in several ways. First, OCRA is designing the program as it goes, so it will gain experience through the first two cohorts prior to Wayne County's participation.
The HELP application also included a commitment to hire a coordinator to work as the contact person, plus there will be committees formed to analyze project ideas. The year provides sufficient time to hire the coordinator and secure committee participation.
“It gives us time to formulate the committee structure and who gets involved and really talk to people and make sure we have a good, strong cross section, have good participation and are up and ready to start in January ‘23,” Plasterer said.
The year additionally provides time to gather information from other initiatives. The county is part of a regional application for Regional Economic Acceleration & Development Initiative funding. There also is an ongoing Main Street assessment taking place in four communities with Main Street organizations.
Results from those efforts could inform and influence HELP planning. For example, HELP money could supplement READI money for a project, or vice versa, Plasterer said.
“Let’s make sure we’re funding the highest priority projects that are eligible for these dollars,” Plasterer said.
In addition, participating communities may continue to apply for funding through additional avenues throughout that year.
“If a program’s going to be paid for by some other funding stream, then we don’t want to pay for it out of the discretionary funds here that we have available in Wayne County,” Plasterer said.
The downside, of course, is waiting a year before the planning process truly begins.
“I think we’re well-positioned, and I think the things that we are doing — not just the county, but the city and the towns are currently doing — is going to really benefit us in 2023 as we put the plan together,” Plasterer said.
This article originally appeared on Richmond Palladium-Item: State selects Wayne County communities for HELP