To the editor:
At the June 20, 2017, presentation to a crowd of approximately 100 people on the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) at the Brown County Playhouse, Commissioner Diana Biddle stated: “We have planned ourselves to death: Strategic planning, strategic planning, strategic planning. It is time for strategic doing.”
Although this statement received a round of applause, and may accurately reflect the perception held by many in the community, there can be more to the story.
The Purdue University Center for Regional Development has described “strategic doing” as including “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.” This future must be identified in a comprehensive plan and strategy. The last revision to the county comprehensive plans was in 2011, and the county does not have a published strategic plan.
Regarding the proposed MLPAC, the community at large has not had the opportunity at official public meetings to provide input on the best investment options for the revenue collected from the innkeepers tax, nor were they involved in providing feedback on the size, scope and location of a venue.
Further, citizens have not been provided with sufficient details on the nature of the $10.2 million debt including information about the right, if any, to remonstrate. Although principal and interest on the debt can be paid with revenues from the innkeepers tax, taxpayers are likely at risk for the total debt.
Despite this lack of community engagement, advocates for the proposed MLPAC are on the Area Plan Commission agenda on Aug. 22 and intend to request a zoning change for the Snyder Farm site.
An initial outline of the “proposed” MLPAC review and approval process was developed by the county attorneys, Barnes and Thornburg. The Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) initiated a review on the proposed MLPAC in the context of a countywide perspective. This review included an outline of an initial action plan that involves collaboration among all affected government offices to ensure the due diligence expected from taxpayers.
At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, commissioner Biddle stated that the initial process that was outlined by Barnes and Thornburg was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC. An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.
The RDC is pursuing federal grants to fund updates to the county comprehensive plan and to fund development of an economic development strategic plan. These plans along with a five-year budgeting capability would include the key elements of a county strategic plan — likely the first ever such plan in the history of Brown County government. Because of the long lead time involved with government grants, self-funding the development of these plans may be an immediate and needed course of action.
To support the aim of “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations,” either the RDC or another objective third party should be asked to take the lead in facilitating the review and approval process. This will help ensure community support for the proposed MLPAC and its alignment with the existing or updated county comprehensive plan.
For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Let’s not plan to fail.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.
Tim Clark, Brown County
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