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In pro-active mood, commissioners reveal priorities for new year

Harrison County’s leaders have identified 15 priorities on which they plan to focus this year.
At a work session Saturday, the three commissioners each put in a plug for their pet county-wide projects, most of which overlap among the three. Proposed district projects, which usually are up to the district representatives, were not included.
Commission chair J.R. Eckart said the priorities are seen as necessary for the continued growth of Harrison County. None are seen as more important or urgent than another, Eckart said. ‘There is no No. 1,’ he said.
Identifying priorities, Eckart said, will allow the board to ‘be proactive instead of reactive.’
The priorities are:
To update county comprehensive land-use plan; update county offices and courts space-needs analysis; continue Farm, Forest and Open Space program; research property needs for economic development; institute county speed ordinances; continue county hospital development program; revive airport feasibility study; evaluate county highway facilities needs; restructure county highway engineering and highway maintenance departments; study future of existing county hospital facility; work with council to set riverboat income allocations, develop program to comply with state mandated GASB 34 (inventory of county assets), and consider development of a county office ‘intranet’ system and possible digital media department.
Some of those priorities were not discussed in depth, but here’s a closer look at some of the commissioners’ concerns.
Comprehensive plan: ‘We need to re-do the comprehensive plan,’ Eckart said, referring to the document used to set land-use policies. ‘The commissioners need to take the lead on that.’
Eckart said the current plan, updated in 1996, provides a ‘good snapshot in ’96 of what the county should look like by the year 2005. We’ve held to that very good in some aspects but not in others.’
A new comprehensive plan could address changes not anticipated in the old plan, such as a new Interstate 64 interchange.
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper added: ‘We need to do that this year.’
Commissioner James Goldman said the commissioners should select a consultant to do the work and then attend community meetings concerning any changes.
Space needs: Eckart said the time is fast approaching when a third court will be needed, and the commissioners should have a plan in place when that happens.
‘Do we need to build out on the Justice Center, enough to empty the annex?’ he asked, rhetorically. Once the old jail renovation is complete, several offices from the annex will move in. Rather than expanding the offices that are left, the county should consider selling that building and renting space for those offices elsewhere, if it’s feasible, Heitkemper suggested.
Goldman said the planning department, one of those offices in the annex, should be moved into the downtown courthouse, and plans should be formulated to relocate all of the annex offices, the highway garage and engineering department.
It might be feasible to move the Purdue Extension office and Lifelong Learning into the hospital, if that building is vacated. ‘If we could have somebody ready to move in, that would be wonderful,’ Heitkemper said.
‘We need to hire a firm to look at the potential costs’ of renovating the hospital for such uses, he said.
‘We need to update our needs and space analysis, to get a new five-to-10-year plan,’ Eckart said.
Farm, Forest and Open Spaces: ‘I want to develop a classified farmland program,’ Heitkemper said, adding he’d like to get help from Scott Everett, the regional director for the American Farmland Trust from Michigan.
The commissioners have given the task force, which was appointed last year, extra time to set a budget for the Farm, Forest and Open Spaces program and to develop a land preservation program. The task force has until the end of the year to develop all elements of such a plan, but that time can be extended again if necessary.
The mission of the task force is to protect agricultural, forest and natural resources without sacrificing future development in the county.
Airport feasibility study: ‘We’ve talked for years about an airport, but we never did a feasibility study,’ said Eckart, a former member of an aviation board that studied the possibilities of an airport. ‘Is it worth it to try to do a feasibility study this year … or just put it to bed? I feel it could be a very good economic development engine.’
‘If you can fly them in here instead of wheel them in here, we’re a lot better off,’ said Heitkemper.
Eckart said Clark County’s airport has been an excellent economic development tool. ‘It brings in a lot of business,’ Eckart said.
County speed ordinance: Although this topic has been on the table for more than a decade, speed limits have been implemented only sporadically, mostly in subdivisions. Implementing county-wide speed limits is a priority, but ordinances must first be in place for the speed limits to be enforced, with tickets.
Riverboat income allocations: Goldman noted that the commissioners should have a serious talk with the council concerning the use of riverboat revenue to lower property taxes through the reduction of school debts. ‘We have a lot of huge infrastructure needs in the county.’
Those mentioned included wastewater treatment facilities as well as improving highway travel.
‘We need to determine if we’re serving the best interests of the community by paying their taxes or providing for the future,’ Goldman said. ‘Are we helping the county or simply eating the pie?’

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