County officials have hit pause — albeit temporarily — on their application for a state grant to help pay for a 10-year improvement plan.

County Commission President Trent Hinkle in recent months has led the charge to see the commissioners apply for a $50,000 grant through the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs, money that would go to help pay for the development of the county’s first-ever comprehensive plan, which would outline and prioritize improvements over the next ten years.

But the application was due on Jan. 15, and while much of the work was already done, they missed the deadline.

A 5-member committee — one comprised of Hinkle himself, county commissioner Kellie Streeter, Pantheon executive director Nichole Like, Knox County Development Corp. CEO Chris Pfaff, and county council member Harry Nolting — has been overseing the process and opted to hire local architectural and engineering firm RQAW to do the plan as part of a formal Request for Qualifications and interview process.

But also as part of the grant, the county had to do, themselves, a door-to-door income survey from a random sampling of 41 homes. To meet the grant criteria, a certain percentage of Knox County residents must meet low-to-moderate income guidelines.

But the survey, Hinkle said, didn’t get done, largely due to COVID-19.

“There were also the holidays to contend with,” he said, “and it became just impossible to get it done.

“But that is the only reason we opted to put this on pause,” he said.

The next round of grants for this particular comprehensive plan, he said, is this spring, and the committee hopes to get started on the income survey within the week to be sure it’s done in time.

And as it turns out, doing so will benefit the county in other ways, Hinkle said Tuesday.

The commissioners, too, are working with the Loogootee-based Southern Indiana Development Commission on yet another grant opportunity — one also run through the state OCRA.

Months ago, the commissioners secured $250,000 from OCRA’s now revamped Community Development Block Grant program and have divvied it out to county businesses in the form of mini-grants to bolster them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

OCRA has made that same grant available for second and, now, third round, and the commissioners have opted to apply again.

OCRA, too, is broadening the ways in which cities and counties can spend these funds, and one possibility is extending public wifi to under-served areas of Knox County.

The lack of high-speed internet is often the topic of discussion amongst elected officials, and the commissioners already have a plan to add wifi service in Ouabache Trails Park later this year.

Earlier this month, however, SIDC’s Matt Sward said money for wifi was likely off the table as the grant application requires an income survey — the same kind of random, and confidential, income survey required by the comprehensive plan grant.

The state technically isn’t allowing communities to embark on such a survey largely due to COVID-19, but since the county already has one in the works, OCRA appears as though it will allow it, Sward said.

“So since that (survey) is already in process, they are going to let use utilize that,” he said.

Hinkle indicated the commissioners would likely use the money, should the application be successful, to pay for the infrastructure necessary at Ouabache Trails Park.

But it, too, is on a tight timeline.

The proposal for that third OCRA grant is due a the end of the month with the actual application due to state officials on Feb. 27, Sward said.

“But if we can get that survey done by the time that application is due to OCRA, we can probably include the wifi, so that’s what we’re shooting for,” Hinkle said.

“That essentially puts wifi back on the table for us, and that’s huge.”

Also as part of that application, the commissioners are looking to apply for funds for food pantries, specifically partnering with Helping His Hands Disaster Response.

The grant application for the comprehensive plan money, Sward said, is due on later, on April 15.

Should the county secure those funds and move forward with the comprehensive plan, it would be a first for Knox County officials.

The City of Vincennes has pursued several over the years as having an updated comprehensive plan is often necessary to be eligible for grant opportunities.

Officials in Vincennes, Knox County and Bicknell, for instance, had to pull out of the race to be named the state’s first region-focused Stellar Community in the fall of 2018 largely because the county didn’t have a comprehensive plan.

One of the projects the county hoped to complete if successful in that Stellar program — which opens up a variety of funding opportunities specifically for quality of place initiatives — was to extend the city’s Riverwalk all the way out to Ouabache Trails Park.

Another possibility would be to transform the current work release and probation department building downtown into a kind of county all-purpose building.

A development plan like this one, too, would make the county more competitive in the race for state and federal grant funds for a variety of improvement projects.

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