OUR OPINION: Collaboration is unsung benefit of Stellar award

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Daily Reporter

Amid the jubilation of the recent Stellar Communities award here was an important factor that was somewhat overlooked.

It wasn’t the upcoming infusion of millions of dollars in grants for community projects, although that’s what made the headlines. It also wasn’t about the resume-boosting designation that no doubt will make its way to every official letterhead and welcome sign, although that’s important as well.

It was the fact that two rather disparate groups of stakeholders put together collaborations strong enough to become finalists in the prestigious community sweepstakes. That’s two campaigns out of five finalists statewide in a competition known for being difficult. That’s remarkable considering the barriers — geographical, philosophical, political — that naturally exist among the communities. It was refreshing to see communities that usually compete with each other actually sitting down and accomplishing something so esteemed.

In case you missed it, the Health and Heritage Region, a collaboration among the city of Greenfield, the town of Fortville and Hancock County, was declared a 2018 Stellar Community last month by the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs, an agency of state government overseen by the lieutenant governor. The designation is a big deal: The Health and Heritage Region and another designee from northeastern Indiana will each receive $4.5 million in grants from OCRA and will also be in line for additional state funding. All told, the Greenfield/Fortville/Hancock County region is expected receive well over $10 million over the next five years.

The funding, which includes a local match, will underwrite more than a dozen community improvement projects, ranging from trails and parks to mixed-use development.

The second Hancock County finalist, a collaboration among McCordsville, Cumberland and New Palestine, proposed improvements along the Mt. Comfort Road corridor but was not selected.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, in noting two of the five Stellar finalists came from Hancock County, said it was a testament to the county’s leadership.

It was also a testament to the collaboration. Communities in Hancock County already have a history of working together — public safety and streets/roads quickly come to mind — but the Stellar process might have sparked a new way of thinking.

“Going through this process has moved us closer together in looking at things regionally,” said Joanie Fitzwater, Greenfield’s planning director, who was a key catalyst for the Health and Heritage effort. “We’re winners no matter what because this is a great blueprint.”

Dave Book, the town manager in New Palestine, said forming the New Pal/Cumberland/McCordsville Stellar plan cultivated deeper relationships among the towns in the county’s western townships. As the fastest-growing communities in the county, that will be important in the future.

Added Book: “It’s very unique that you get three communities to agree on everything.”