The City of Vincennes on Tuesday was officially selected to participate in a new state program looking to help Hoosier communities maximize their federal COVID-19 dollars.
Mayor Joe Yochum announced that the city was selected for the Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program — or HELP.
The program, the mayor said, “presents a unique opportunity for communities to learn how to best spend their recovery funds in order to create a lasting positive impact and legacy,” according to a press release.
The city will enter the program in July alongside counterparts in both Daviess and Dubois counties.
As part of the award, the city will be allotted monies — monies the city council months ago voted to bolster by $20,000 — to hire a community coordinator, a person to spend a full year developing a Strategic Investment Plan to direct the city in spending their American Rescue Plan Act funds.
HELP communities, too, will be able to work alongside officials at Indiana University, Purdue University and the Indiana Arts Council as well as the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Indiana Department of Health, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Columbus-based CivicLab and NEXT Studios, among other resources.
But the opinions the mayor is most excited to hear are those of the general public as they will be asked to participate in the process through a series of public meetings next year.
There, too, will be local committees put together to look more specifically at the areas of broadband deployment, quality of place initiatives, community wellness and development of the local economy.
“I’m excited about this because we’ve always had great participation in the planning of our comprehensive plans, downtown plans, and I’m hoping for more of the same with this,” he said.
The HELP designation, too, includes up to a million dollars in matching funds that can be used to bolster the city’s $3.5 million share of ARPA monies, the mayor said.
He’s hopeful to hire the community coordinator in May; planning should begin shortly thereafter.
Vincennes was one of nine Hoosier communities to achieve HELP designation.
“We still have a lot to learn about how we can spend these ARPA monies, but this will get our community involved in the progress we can see with these dollars,” he said.
“It will give everybody a chance to be heard,” he said.
Plans to spend the more than $11 million in federal funds flowing into Knox County continue to take shape.
County elected officials, for instance, have enlisted the help of Loogootee-based Southern Indiana Development Commission, a popular grant administrator, as well as a legal firm and financial advisors in Indianapolis and Seymour respectively.
The rules associated with spending the federal funds — ones aimed at bolstering communities through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — are still somewhat fluid; as such, many elected officials are still sitting on the money, concerned about unintentionally breaking those rules, possibly even being forced to pay it all back.
The county has received a handful of specific requests for the money — everything from new fire hydrants to stipends for county employees — but they’ve granted no requests.
It is likely, however, that at least some of it — possibly upwards of half — will go to help cover the cost of a $32 million expansion to the Knox County Jail next year.
The commissioners, too, have said they hope to hold a series of public meetings to garner feedback from the community on how they believe the money should be spent.
At least a portion of the state’s interim rule is, however, quite clear, that the money can be spent shoring up funds that experienced shortfalls the direct result of the pandemic — such as the Indiana Motor Vehicle Highway tax — or water infrastructure projects.
As such, elected officials in Bicknell have moved forward in spending at least some of the $640,000 they received in ARPA funds on a pair of such water-related projects.
The City of Vincennes, too, plans to spend $1.5 million bolstering about $8 million in drinking water infrastructure improvements beginning next year.