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Comprehensive plan helped Knightstown join 'Stellar' effort

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

One could say these are stellar times in Knightstown.

Officials here are both excited and frenzied with activity after the announcement came that the “Safe and Welcome” collaborative regional entry with New Castle, Henry County and Knightstown was one of four statewide  finalists in 2019 Stellar grant competition.

“This is really a huge opportunity for this community,” Knightstown Clerk-Treasurer Beth Huffman said. “This would be more money than we’ve ever brought into the community.”

If the regional plan is selected, a total of $22 million would be awarded to move the region (Knightstown, New Castle and Henry County) forward.

While efforts to get the Stellar entry put together are over, the task ahead will be more of longer distance race.

Since the announcement, about eight meetings have been held, including a region-wide meeting at the Hoosier Gym on Wednesday, as local Stellar Grant committee members met with representatives from the Indiana Office of Rural and Community Affairs at Hoosier Gym. Another such meeting is scheduled in June.

“Now, we have a lot of work to do as we look forward,” Huffman told Knightstown board members at their recent board meeting. “There will be lots of meetings and lots going on with Ball State before the final application is complete. Then there will be presentations done in front of the folks who are going to make that final decision.”

“We want to be sure we are keeping State Rep. Tom Saunders in the loop,” Huffman continued. “My guess is Tom put in some good words for us and was pretty key in this. He’s your legislator, so we want to be sure to keep him updated as much as we can.”

Huffman and others credited Cathy Hamilton of New Castle and Town Council member Landon Dean for helping ensure Knightstown was part of the successful grant application, selected by the Stellar Committee on April 18.

“The reason we were put into this was because we had a comprehensive plan,” Huffman said. “I think Landon was pretty key in this. There were lots of communications around members of the group writing the letter of intent were saying) ‘we can’t find anybody with comprehensive plans.’ And Landon said ‘Knightstown has one! Call Knightstown!’ Thanks to Landon for that connection.”

The Knightstown Comprehensive Plan was finalized in 2016 with a focus on educational and cultural attainment, quality of life for residents and visitors and economic development activities. The plan also improve and maintaining the infrastructure and services of the town to ensure the well-being of the community. Residents also highlighted the need to encourage growth while retaining a balance between residential neighborhoods and business/industrial centers.

In a community where the Hoosier Gym has drawn thousands of visitors to see the movie set home of the Hickory Huskers, teamwork has spread from the famed basketball court to the board rooms.

“What I understand from the folks who were putting the grant together, they were really intrigued and really liked the idea of the community working together in Knightstown,” Town Council member Kevin Knott said. “And that’s one reason they felt comfortable reaching out to our community to be a part of the project. It’s a win-win for this town and the community.”

Electronic metering, landlord legislation also discussed

Thanks to the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, Knightstown’s electric utility has made some powerful improvements. At the council’s April meeting, discussion included another need that IMPA might be able to help supply.

Clerk-Treasurer Beth Huffman spoke about the need for electronic metering and how important that is to the community.

“And how important it is that they put together a plan that allows those meter costs to come down because we simply can’t afford to purchase meters with our 1,700 accounts,” Huffman said.  

Since signing a service corps agreement with IMPA, Knightstown has been able to complete an emergency plan that has reduced power outages once so frequent here.

“We are finished paying for our emergency plan,” Huffman said. “All of the installments have been made on the emergency.”

Huffman said she would reach out to IMPA and see if the organization could help with electronic meters.

Meanwhile, Huffman also advised the board on recent legislation signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb concerning landlords and unpaid utility bills.

“Right now, if a landlord owns property, we can put a sewer lien on that property,” Huffman said. “If the renters leave and leave the bill behind, then the landlord owes that money.”

But the bill signed into law April 25 shifts that responsibility and requires the utility to bill the renter, not the landowner.

“I’m a landlord and you never like to get stuck with that money,” Huffman said of unpaid utility bills. “On the other hand, the utility gets stuck with it if we’re not renting to good tenants in this community. We have a lot of transitional folks coming and going here with these rentals. So, this will require some changes to our operating ordinance in our utility.”