County considering HELP

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Although it is not legally required, the Dubois County Commissioners believe that having a strategic plan in place would benefit the county.

A new program through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs may be a way to help with creating such a plan.

“We are taking items piecemeal. We’re taking projects piecemeal. And we don’t have a (strategic) plan as a county,” Commissioners President Chad Blessinger said Monday during the commissioners’ meeting. “If we did decide to move forward with something like this, it could take care of both the strategic planning for our funds, and for a more general plan.”

Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program, or HELP, has been created to assist local units of government in their efforts to optimize the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds they received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Indiana communities are receiving a total of $1.28 billion; Dubois County’s share is $8.4 million.

Denny Spinner, executive director or OCRA, said during the new program’s announcement last week that HELP melds the pillars of OCRA’s Stellar initiative into a program that will capitalize on the successes of previous efforts, while addressing the current environment of Hoosier communities.

“When I was mayor of my hometown of Huntingburg, I got to experience how OCRA and its partners can help transform a community,” he said. “I am excited to now bring the spirit of Stellar into a new iteration that will support communities in best employing fiscal recovery funds to create a legacy in these Hoosier towns and cities.”

The commissioners discussed possibly utilizing HELP to help with strategic planning for the county.

“We need to have more of that going on,” Commissioner Elmer Brames said. “There are a lot of issues out there; you know they are out there. We bring them up once in a while. Sometimes we are forced into doing something. It would be nice to have a plan to handle some of these.”

Blessinger said a plan would help the county plan for upcoming needs, such as new highway space, which has been discussed before, or making improvements to the solid waste process center.

“You don’t want to make decisions when you’ve got to,” Blessinger said, “or when a roof falls in or when you’re in a critical point. You’d rather have a plan for it, to strategically get you to that goal.”

Communities selected to participate in the yearlong HELP initiative will collaborate with educational institutions on four key pathways: advancing e-connectivity, enhancing quality of place, promoting community wellness and strengthening local economies. These pathways will help communities to be more resilient to future economic downturns.

The educational institutions that will work with OCRA and the communities are the Purdue Center for Regional Development, the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement, the Ball State University Indiana Communities Institute and Ivy Tech Community College. Columbus-based nonprofit CivicLab will provide data training to support the implementation of a strategic investment plan based on community feedback, community data and the four pathways.

Dubois County officials created a plan about 10 years ago, Brames recalled. “I don’t know whether that was as good of a strategic plan as I would like to see,” he said. Municipalities, by law, are required to have a comprehensive plan, but counties are not.”

“If that is an outcome of this, I think that’s a very positive thing,” he said, “even to the point where it might lead into more of a plan for development in the county.”

Communities involved in HELP will receive training on ARPA, the introduction of a community coordinator position, and the creation of an online dashboard that includes data about the selected community. HELP will support communities directly by building capacity, creating a peer network system between communities participating in the program, developing a strategic investment plan and providing access to set-aside funding. The Indiana Arts Commission, the Indiana State Office of Rural Health/Indiana State Department of Health, the Indiana Department of Transportation, and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will also assist in the program.

“In my position as Secretary of Rural Development, I have seen many Indiana rural communities grow and develop with the help of OCRA’s programs,” Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said at last week’s announcement of the new program. “HELP is the newest way for the state to partner with our already vibrant and successful rural communities, and further build them so they become stronger and more resilient.”

To be considered for HELP, a community must apply by Oct. 1. A live webinar outlining HELP details will be held live at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Information can be found at www.in.gov/ocra/HELP/.




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