New agency is required to get grant

May 17th, 2015

News Coverage:

May 17, 2015 1:01 AM

New agency is required to get grant

John Stafford

The Indiana General Assembly recently included an $84 million appropriation to the Regional Cities Fund in the 2015-17 state budget. In subsequent months, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation likely will be awarding grants to two regions in the state to use in making “quality of place” enhancements designed to improve their ability to attract and retain talented individuals. This initiative adds to Indiana’s continuing efforts to assist community development through its Stellar Communities program, of which several northeast Indiana communities have been finalists.

An important detail of the Regional Cities Initiative provides that the only eligible applicants for the $84 million of state assistance are Regional Development Authorities – RDAs. For most, this is a very new concept. Indiana’s first – and to date only – RDA was created by the General Assembly in 2005 and includes the counties of Lake and Porter in the northwest corner of the state.

On the same day that the new state budget was adopted, the General Assembly also enacted House Enrolled Act 1403, which created an essentially brand new process for forming RDAs.

An RDA is a new, special purpose governmental entity that can undertake capital projects which are of regional importance in promoting the attraction and retention of people and businesses. Counties, by action of their County Councils, may join together to form an RDA. A second-class city (or a third-class city or town that meets the 35,000 population threshold to become a second-class city) can also participate in the forming of an RDA. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is in the process of making informational presentations to all northeast Indiana county councils on the changes made by HEA 1403 and seeking approval from each to form the Northeast Indiana RDA.

While RDAs have no independent taxing authority, nor can they direct any local government to increase taxes, they receive voluntary contributions of both state and local funds as well as private and foundation resources. Individual cities, towns and counties can agree to participate financially in RDA projects of their choosing by entering into an Interlocal Agreement among themselves and the RDA that details any local financial commitment.

An RDA, once established, is led by a five-member Development Board appointed collectively by the mayors and county commissioners of the member counties and cities. While the Development Board’s role in coordination and communication will be important, it is really the initiation of the voluntary Interlocal Agreements for specific projects that will bring an RDA to life.

It is the current intent of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to establish a July 1 deadline for submission of applications for the $84 million appropriated to the Regional Cities Fund. That is obviously right around the corner. Therefore, there is urgency to the process for forming an RDA in northeast Indiana.

During the past three months, a group of individuals from throughout our region has been gathering and refining a list of potential projects to be included in an application to be submitted to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. This work has been ongoing in anticipation of the state appropriation and the July 1st submission deadline and now parallels the efforts to establish the Northeast Indiana RDA.

The submission of a strong application for Regional Cities funding is the next logical step in the ongoing efforts to collectively enhance the ability of our region to grow – in population, in economic strength and in the quality of our respective communities. The establishment of a Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority that includes the entire region is essential to taking that next step.

John Stafford retired as director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW and is consultant to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.