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Regional Cities ordinance tabled

The Harrison County Council Monday night, after another lengthy and at times contentious discussion, voted to table the ordinance to create and join a Regional Development Authority to become part of the Regional Cities Initiative.
Two councilmen ‘ Richard Gerdon and Jim Heitkemper ‘ were against the motion made by Councilman Kyle Nix to table the issue.
Before the vote, proponents and opponents alike lined up to speak to the council to try to sway votes one way or the other.
Elizabeth resident Kathy Heil warned the councilmembers to raise their hands high when voting to join the RDA so she could see who did so and then work to find a replacement for them.
‘Just expect that,’ she said.
Heil said she doesn’t believe officials when they said the RCI won’t cost the county anything. She said, if Harrison County is part of the RCI and it is granted money, the county will end up taxing the residents to match the funding.
The Aug. 31 deadline is probably just a suggestion, Heil said, likely similar to other suggestions regarding the legislation.
‘I say you take it as a suggestion and let the long black train leave town,’ she said.
Heil also said that State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, wants Horseshoe Southern Indiana moved to the old Colgate plant area in Clarksville.
‘We’ve known that for years,’ Councilman Gary Davis said. ‘This doesn’t have anything to do with that.’
The initiative was created in the General Assembly last year and will be administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to combat what it says is the biggest threat to economic development in the state: population stagnation. A region or two will be selected later this year for matching funds from the state amounting to $84 million in a two-year period to bring economic and quality-of-place development to the chosen regions.
Lanesville resident Mark Bush said the initiative is nothing more than a tax.
‘You don’t get money unless you put money with it,’ he said.
Bush said Harrison County can join with other counties without the state’s help.
‘We don’t need Indianapolis holding money over us that’s already been confiscated from us … ,’ he said. ‘We need to tell Indianapolis what we want.’
While she doesn’t particularly like the way the initiative was set up, Jill Saegesser, of River Hills Economic Development District and Regional Planning Commission, said the regional aspect of the plan is positive.
‘I’d like to see the five counties (Harrison, Scott, Floyd, Clark and Washington) we deal with get that money,’ she said. ‘ … somebody’s going to get it.’
Darrell Voelker, director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., said the plan has short- and long-term benefits; it’s not only a way to get money from the state, but also an opportunity to work together with surrounding counties.
Matt Hall spoke of the River Ridge development near Jeffersonville and how communities came together to make that happen.
‘They could have done nothing … ,’ he said. ‘It has 6,000 jobs and is only 10 percent developed. I’m sure some of those folks are from Harrison County.’
Also speaking in favor of the initiative was Lisa Long, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County. She said she hoped her children will one day be able to live in the area and support their families.
Long also thanked Phil Smith, Harrison County’s spokesperson for the initiative, for his work gaining information about the initiative.
‘He asks more questions than I ever thought possible,’ she said, adding that Smith goes ‘above and beyond’ what’s expected.
Smith said the only fees he could find needed for the RDA would be to pay for audits.
One question left unanswered centered on who would have the authority to withdraw the county from the RDA, should it desire to do so. Nix said he thought it should be the council, since it would be the one to agree to join.
Wendy Chesser, of One Southern Indiana (the group that took the lead on creating a Southern Indiana regional city), called the RCI a very odd piece of legislation and said she doesn’t know who has the authority to withdraw but thought it should rest with the council.
Chesser eased a couple of other concerns, including taxing power and eminent domain, saying the RDA will have no taxing power and won’t be able to implement eminent domain.
Also, Harrison County will not be obligated financially if it joins and the only time money will be requested of the county is when a project is located in the county or is perceived to benefit the county, Chesser said. Even then, she said, the council will have the opportunity to vote on funding on a project-by-project basis.
The main Harrison County-focused part of the plan, which is mostly already put together, is a technology center near the Lanesville interchange area.
The technology center is a partnership between Indiana University Southeast, Purdue University and a third anchor university to be disclosed once final agreements have been made. The facility would house worker-training programs for nearby businesses, degree-completion options as a part of Southern Indiana’s 55,000 degrees effort, distance-learning options, summer high school camps and collaborative Maker Space and co-working space.
‘The anchor university tenant is considering offering degrees in logistics, architecture and urban planning, emerging media and communications, entrepreneurship, biochemistry and information technology and computer sciences,’ according to a handout about the project.
In 15 years, the goal is to have 2,000 students and employ nearly 200 faculty and staff. The center would create 40 indirect jobs and 160 temporary construction jobs, according to the Regional Cities workbook.
The project would help facilitate the development of the Interstate 64 interchange area at Lanesville, and, beyond the university tenant, the 100-acre business park could accommodate nearly 2,000 workers.
‘The spin-off effects of this could result in as many as 500 new multi-family units and 500 new single-family developments as well as neighborhood-supportive retail and restaurants,’ according to the workbook.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $20 million.
Anticipated funding sources include the town of Lanesville ($1 million), Harrison County Council/commissioners ($2 million), Harrison County Community Foundation ($6 million), Harrison County Economic Development Corp. ($3 million), university anchor tenant ($4 million) and the Regional Cities Initiative ($4 million).
The project is only in the planning stage and has not been approved by any of the potential funding entities.
The council had a joint meeting Thursday night, which lasted more than four hours, to discuss the initiative and view the video from the July 20 workshop in Jeffersonville.
The council is expected to vote whether or not to join the RDA at its next regular meeting, Monday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.

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