Hagerstown became the first community to sign onto a program that might bring $8 million to Wayne County.

Town Council agreed on April 1 to provide a letter of interest for the county’s Stellar Pathways application. It’s a funding program from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs which encourages regional cooperation on projects that make lasting local improvements, Acacia St. John said.

St. John is director of Forward Wayne County, a program of the Wayne County Foundation, which is preparing the funding application. She and Jeff Plasterer, president of the Wayne County Board of County Commissioners, spoke with the council.

Stellar Pathways is a competitive program in which two Indiana counties will be selected to receive up to $8 million each for projects selected by them. Stellar Pathways “works with communities within a county boundary on a shared vision for community and economic development, promotes local and regional partnerships, and assists in implementing sustainable solutions to challenges facing Indiana’s rural communities,” according to the OCRA website.

The first step is getting letters of interest from local communities by May 1, St. John said. She is meeting this week with other municipalities that have expressed possible interest, including Centerville, Economy, Richmond, East Germantown and Greens Fork. She is hoping to meet with Fountain City Town Council as well.

St. John will put together the county’s letter of interest. OCRA will choose four counties to receive $50,000 planning grants to develop what OCRA calls a Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) that will include the specific community proposals. Each county will present its proposal to a selection committee in November. OCRA will select two counties to receive up to $8 million from various state agencies. The projects must be completed within five years.

Wayne County’s proposal will be based on a structure similar to that of the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program (HELP), Plasterer and St. John said. Pandemic relief funds were paired with funds contributed by several county municipalities and some private donations. Communities are now starting a number of projects. Plasterer said the success of HELP showed the positive results of countywide cooperation.

Hagerstown and Centerville did not participate in HELP.

In other business, the council agreed to discuss changing the building commissioner’s job description. Terry Ford, who became building commissioner on Jan. 1, resigned to take a better-paying job as Centerville’s building commissioner. Council member Brian Longbons, who chairs the town’s Advisory Plan Commission, said Ford had done a good job. But the part-time position does not pay much — about $14,000 — and it was difficult to get applicants last year. He asked the council for guidance about whether to search for a new commissioner or rewrite the job description to broaden the position’s work or explore contracting with the county for the service.

Council scheduled a special meeting to discuss the position on Tuesday, April 9. It was to follow a closed-door executive session at 6:30 p.m. in which the possible purchase of real estate was to be discussed.

Also on April 1, Police Chief Keith Folkner said representatives of Norfolk Southern Railroad will be meeting with him April 17 to review what happened in a Feb. 20 crash between a semitrailer and a train at the South Washington Street crossing. He plans to show the railroad personnel the steep grade at that crossing. The railroad came under criticism at the March 4 council meeting from town officials who said the company has not answered inquiries over several years about plans for repairing crossing grades there and on South Street.

The council also conducted a public hearing to start official processes leading toward water line repairs. No one from the public spoke.

The next regular council meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 6, in Town Hall, 49 E. College St. The public may attend.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 10 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.