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County on board for regional cities plan

The Harrison County Council Monday night agreed to join in the discussion for a Regional Cities Initiative which could potentially bring millions of state dollars to the region, if not Harrison County specifically.
Two regions in the state will be selected for the matching funds, which will amount to $84 million during a two-year period, meaning about $21 million per year for each of the two selected regions to bring economic and quality of place development to the regions, Wendy Chesser, of One Southern Indiana, told the council.
The Regional Cities Initiative spawned out of the 2014 Indiana General Assembly and will be administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to combat what they say is the biggest threat to economic development in the state, which is population stagnation.
In the last decade, 80 percent of Indiana’s population growth (6 million to 6.4 million) is attributable to the birth rate outpacing the death rate. Talented people continue to move to southern and western states.
The initiative will encourage efforts to attract talented people.
‘Indiana has built one of the best business climates in the country and now is the time to take the same principles that made our state an economic powerhouse and apply them to building a quality of place that attracts and retains future generations of Hoosiers,’ according to a one-page summary of the initiative at indianaregionalcities.com.
The goal of the initiative is to inspire regional development, encourage regional collaboration and partner financially.
Chesser visited the council to ask if the county would come to the table to talk about regional cities and, eventually, designate a representative to do so.
Nine or 10 regional cities are expected to apply, Chesser said.
A regional city has to comprise of 200,000 people to be eligible, she said. With Clark (114,000), Floyd (85,000) and Harrison (39,000) counties, the region would qualify.
Clark County, however, did not agree to take part in the effort.
Clark County officials were concerned about not being guaranteed a representative on the authority (also a concern expressed by Harrison County councilmembers) and that too much control would be given to a small, non-elected body.
Even though the initiative was denied by Clark County, the city of Jeffersonville can still jump on board.
Washington County also has agreed to the program.
The final application, which includes the creation of a Regional Development Authority, has to be completed by Aug. 31.
The authority would be composed of five members approved by the participating cities’ and counties’ fiscal bodies. Members cannot be government employees or elected officials.
Councilman Jim Heitkemper asked where the $84 million will come from.
‘I know it didn’t appear out of nowhere,’ he said.
Chesser said the plan is for the state to run a tax amnesty program with the money collected being used for regional cities. Ten years ago, she said, the state ran an amnesty program and collected $160 million.
Harrison County officials will still have to vote on an ordinance to create a Regional Development Authority.
Chesser said it’s her recommendation that all counties sign the same ordinance to create uniformity.
Other potential regional cities have strong collaboration, including South Bend (four counties signed up) and Fort Wayne (11 counties).
Council Chair Gary Davis said he thought it was a great idea for the region to get together to talk about economic development.
Darrell Voelker, Harrison County’s Economic Development director, also spoke in favor of the initiative and said it was a good idea to cooperate at this level.
Voelker also said the council would not have to worry about the Regional Development Authority putting a tax burden on Harrison County for a project out of the county.
‘The people of Harrison County wouldn’t allow it,’ he said.
Voelker said the county would benefit from any growth in the region, because it would provide jobs and, in turn, income tax revenue to the county.
‘I firmly believe in regional cooperation,’ he said.
The Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County also supported the initiative, via a letter to the council.
Chamber president Lisa Long said it’s a chance to really transform the community and especially an opportunity to limit the ‘brain drain’ where talented young people leave the area to find jobs. She said if something isn’t done, then it’s probably time to stop complaining about it.
Councilman Richard Gerdon said the county is not guaranteed any money if they sign on, but they are guaranteed no money if they don’t sign it.
To a round of applause, the council unanimously (7-0) voted to approve the resolution ‘approving strategy for creation of a Regional Development Authority in anticipation of a ‘Regional Cities Designation’ from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’
In other business, Rand Heazlitt, Harrison County Parks Dept. director, said the pool at South Harrison Park, near Elizabeth, should be opened today (Wednesday) after repair work is completed.
The council approved $630,550 for the wash bay and other work associated with the Harrison County Highway Dept. garage property, which should be the last of the additional appropriations for the project. The council cut a 5-percent contingency out of the request, so, it is possible they’ll have to return for more funding if they run into any unforeseen expenses.
The council’s next meeting will be Monday, July 13, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.

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