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Making It Official

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Some couples sign prenuptial agreements before tying the knot. Those contracts outline how the marriage is going to work and how it’s going to work if things don’t work.

The leaders of Knightstown, New Castle and Henry County all recently signed “interlocal governmental agreement” this month as part of the Stellar Communities process.

Call it a prenup or call it a contract, this agreement outlines how the three shall become one ... and how they will share $22 million in funds should we be named the 2019 Stellar Region.

The Stellar Communities Program is a state initiative that encourages local planning and regional collaboration.

Henry County, New Castle and Knightstown represent the “Safe and Welcome Region” in this year’s Stellar competition.

According to the new agreement, “Safe” refers to local projects that provide opportunities for exercise, health and wellness and enhanced emergency services, along with quality of life improvements and safe housing downtown.

“Welcome” goals involve: creating tourism, convention and recreation destinations; providing welcoming public parks and trails; and enhancing local historic sites, libraries and other spaces with youth options.

The stated purpose of the contract is to develop the framework for continued collaboration between New Castle, Knightstown and Henry County. The agreement also establishes leadership and support roles to help manage and measure the success of the region’s comprehensive plan.

The East Central Indiana Region

Henry County’s new interlocal agreement also makes a note that if the Safe and Welcome Region is named this year’s Stellar winner, it would create a 74-mile corridor of Stellar Communities through East Central Indiana to Indianapolis.

The agreement even suggests the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), which oversees the Stellar program, could call this new corridor the “Stellar State Line to State Capital Region.”

Thousands of Interstate 70 travelers “would be able to experience firsthand the truly transformative results created by successful regional collaboration” if we win the title, the interlocal agreement said.

‘Good stewards of entrusted funds’

The agreement between the city, town and county also created an Administrative Review Committee (ARC) and Joint Board of Review (JBR) to ensure the Stellar funds, which could total in the millions, “are properly spent and... projects are completed within the covenants of the award and without unnecessary delay.”

The ARC and JBR members were selected to ensure the Safe and Welcome Region is a good steward of the entrusted funds, the interlocal agreement states.

The ARC

The ARC will consist of Knightstown Clerk Treasurer Beth Huffman, retired New Castle department head Ed Hill and Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs.

As outlined, the ARC will provide oversight over the administration of Stellar funds. The committee will also report findings to the Safe and Welcome Region Board.

The JBR

The JBR will be responsible for overseeing Stellar projects. JBR members can allocate and reallocate funds, if necessary, and will have the ability to sign contracts.

All decision of the JBR must be supported by at least four members, at least one of them being a representative from each region partner.

The Joint Board of Review will include: from Knightstown, Bill Gorman and Kevin Richey; from New Castle, Rex Peckinpaugh and Martin Shields; from Henry County, Kenon Gray and Debbie Walker; and Beverly Matthews, Executive Director of the Henry County Community Foundation.

The JBR will meet bi-monthly for the first two months after Safe and Welcome is named the Stellar Region. After that, the board will meet at least quarterly.

Henry County Community Foundation

The Henry County Community Foundation has pledged strong support to the Stellar application. The Foundation board awarded $650,000 as matching funds to Stellar projects.

Although not official Stellar region members, the towns of Middletown and Spiceland passed resolutions promising to match the needed funds for sidewalk projects in their communities that could be funded by Stellar awards.

New projects, financial constraints

Again, like a prenuptial agreement, the interlocal governmental agreement plans for both a future of growth and one of possible disappointment.

There is a section that allows the regional team and the JBR to determine if a new project would meet the criteria laid out in the original Stellar development plan. Before any new project would move forward, there would be at least one public meeting to get input from local residents.

If one of the regional partners can’t fund a project they’d previously pledged to support, “the remaining funds will be reallocated in a fair and collaborative manner.”

There is another section outlining how to resolve any potential conflict that could come up.

The key element is for everyone involved in the Stellar process to be “open, fair and professional” in order to “build public confidence.”

The interlocal agreement will be in effect throughout the rest of the Stellar Communities Program process.

If the Safe and Welcome Region is not named a the Stellar winner, the contract will continue through Dec. 31, 2020 while the consolation monies are distributed.

If the region wins, the agreement will hold until Dec. 31, 2024.