County leaders differ on economic planning views

Behind-the-scenes work is happening on forming an economic development plan for Brown County.

But a few county officials have differing opinions on the county’s economic situation.

The Brown County Redevelopment Commission is applying for a $40,000 grant through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The application likely will be submitted by the end of the year, said Mike Kleinpeter of Kleinpeter Consulting Group.

If won, this money would be used to hire a person to write an economic plan. At the very least, it would include an evaluation of the community’s economic health, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities; economic development recommendations; and specific action steps, according to OCRA guidelines.

Receiving public input will be a part of that process.

“If there’s any question about Brown County’s need for economic development and redevelopment, we need all the help we can get,” county commissioner Jerry Pittman told the audience at the Nov. 1 commissioners meeting.

He cited a study of six area counties that predicts the population will decline in only one of them by 2050. That one county is Brown County, and it’s projected to lose 9 percent of its population. Four other counties are projected to gain population and one to stay the same, he said.

“With declining population, that creates a lot of problems for a lot of areas,” he said, mentioning schools, county government, and a reduction in the tax base, which could lead to higher taxes per resident just to maintain current services. “Keep up the good work,” he told Tim Clark and the rest of the redevelopment commission. “We need all the help we can get.

Commissioner Dave Anderson didn’t agree with the “drastic” prediction of a population decline here. The county’s population has fluctuated over the years, he said. In his experience as a past Brown County sheriff, people choose to live in places like Brown County because of their relative safety compared to cities, he said.

He said he understands that the schools’ student population has been falling because “a lot of people moving here are a little bit older,” but he doesn’t know if that’s going to continue.

From the audience, county council member Keith Baker said he’s been encouraged by the cooperation he’s been seeing lately, with school officials, town officials and county officials all trying to work together on projects. He encouraged those people to “stay the course.”

“I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom,” he said. “… We’re seeing that turn now. Let’s be patient with that another year and see where it goes.”

Commissioner Diana Biddle asked Clark and Kleinpeter to start working on another, totally separate grant opportunity, to be next in line after this application. She’d like to see the Helmsburg stormwater system fixed and extended. It’s been about 10 years since phase one of that project was done.

The next opportunity to apply for another grant will be in August, Kleinpeter said.