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Regional Cities effort returns to county

The Harrison County Council Monday night heard from Floyd County Council president Brad Striegel, who visited to discuss the latest push for regional development through the state’s Regional Cities Initiative.
In 2015, the only county (in this region) to pass an ordinance to join the Regional Development Authority was Scott County (Clark County approved but then rescinded its ordinance).
In June of this year, however, Floyd County unanimously approved the ordinance; and Clark County followed suit, meaning the RDA now has the required 250,000 population to take part in the Regional Cities Initiative.
The initiative is a state program intended to support ‘quality of place’ projects through regional collaboration.
Striegel said the big change from two years ago was the removal of eminent domain to acquire property.
‘I didn’t feel like it was good government to have a non-elected board to be able to possibly take someone’s property,’ Striegel said. ‘I think that should be something scrutinized and given to the elected officials. The state legislature heard that … and they changed that. Once that got changed, I supported it, because there’s some checks and balances there.’
He also said Harrison County would not have to participate financially in any projects unless the projects were in the county and/or approved by the county council.
‘If you guys are not willing as a fiscal body to be able to be behind a project, you don’t submit it,’ he explained. ‘It’s like a vehicle there ready to drive but, if you don’t want to drive it, you don’t submit anything and you don’t use it. It’s just another tool in your toolbox to be able to use for economic development.’
Currently, the seven regions throughout the state operating regional development authorities have used $126 million in state funding.
A project is funded by the following break down: 60 percent private, 20 percent local and 20 percent state.
The RDA will be managed by a board consisting of five members who will serve four-year terms. The RDA, according to the bylaws, is established to ‘acquire, construct, equip, own, lease and finance projects and facilities for lease to or for the benefit of eligible political subdivisions.’
Councilman Kyle Nix asked what role Harrison County would play if it did join the initiative.
‘I honestly don’t have any idea what it would be that you guys would bring to the table,’ Striegel said. ‘We would certainly like to be a part of that conversation if you guys choose to be a part of it. As I told Clark County, not very many times do we get to, as a community, work as a region and cross boundaries. It’s the spirit of cooperation. I would hope you guys would tell us how you would like to be a part of it and what you’d like to see for your community.’
Striegel said when he voted in favor of the RDA, he had all of the surrounding counties, including Harrison, in mind.
When asked about the time line for Harrison County to join, Striegel said there’s no hard, fast deadline, but the sooner the better.
‘You don’t want to wait too long; if no other county gets in at all and the three in start to move forward, once the ship leaves the dock, I’m not sure there’d be any room to get back on board,’ he said. ‘That’s not a threat; that’s not anything other than it’s just practicality. Right now, it’s just at the dock.’
Councilwoman Holli Castetter said the state could change the legislation or change aspects of the RDA possibly not to their liking.
‘We can’t get out; we’re stuck for eight years,’ she said of the eight-year commitment.
‘OK, that’s a great hypothetical; that could happen because the state can come in and change anything that we do, any policy,’ Striegel said before suggesting an attorney could write up a clause for the county to opt out if significant changes are made.
Councilman Donnie Hussung said he thought Floyd, Clark and other surrounding counties would be more amicable to work with Harrison to fight legislation against the county’s riverboat if it joined in the RDA.
Council Chair Gary Davis said he was in favor two years ago and still is in favor of regional planning.
‘They can move forward now without us; before they needed us,’ he said. ‘I think it’s a bad idea to let one be formed without us.’
The council did not take action on the matter.
Its next regular meeting will be Monday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.