City, county councils question for details on Regional Cities

March 30th, 2016

News Coverage:

March 29, 2016

City, county councils question for details on Regional Cities

Bob Caylor | News-Sentinel

Fort Wayne City Council and Allen County Council joined in a meeting Tuesday evening to learn more details about the $42 million opportunity the state has given northeast Indiana.

The presentations and the follow-up comments and questions lasted more than two hours. Elected officials heard several times that answers to their questions are still being worked out in negotiations between the three Regional Cities winners and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

The $42 million in question is northeast Indiana’s share of the $126 million in Regional Cities Initiative money approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence this year. The South Bend and Evansville regions also will get $42 million each over the next two-to-four years.

That money is designed to prime the pump of local and private-sector development in projects that will enhance northeast Indiana’s “quality of place.” The intention behind the initiative is that these projects will make the 11-county region more attractive to businesses and individuals. In this region, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership has wrapped its effort around the slogan “Road to One Million.” It’s a drive to triple the annual rate of population growth, now 0.7 percent, to 2.1 percent.

County Council President Roy Buskirk said he’s read various figures as targets for the local share of the these projects. John Stafford, a consultant who has helped the Regional Partnership and the Regional Development Authority work out the regional plan, said the state’s guidelines still call for 20 percent coming from the $42 million in state funding, 20 percent from local funding and 60 percent from private dollars. How closely each project needs to match those funding proportions is still something the regions are working out with the IEDC, Stafford said.

Jeff Turner, chairman of the development-authority board and an Auburn resident, said he’d like to see some projects with a smaller percentage of public funding, if private sector investors will pay more.

Several officials noted that there doesn’t appear to be enough state funding to provide matches for all the near-term projects. At a 20-percent match, the state funds would leverage $210 million in projects. Thirty-eight projects, totaling an estimated $400 million are listed in the region plan as the near-term projects.

Turner agreed. “There’s not enough money for all of these projects,” he said. Projects whose backers complete acceptable proposals earlier rather than later will have an advantage in pursuing funding, he said.

County Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-1st, asked why there were no millennial-generation members of the development-authority board. “If we’re looking to retain that talent, we should have that voice,” she said.

Turner said that young community leaders were deeply involved in developing the vision for civic improvement that guides the regional plan.

City Councilman Jason Arp, R-5th, said that he’s concerned Regional Cities will stifle competition by “picking winners and losers.” He cited as an example Ash Skyline Plaza, which has been informally endorsed by the regional-development board as a project worthy of Regional Cities funding. Arp said that would be “funding what amounts to a luxury apartment building.”