Helmsburg is one step closer to becoming an economic development area.
The Brown County Commissioners approved the resolution May 17 at the request of Helmsburg residents.
What an EDA will allow the county to do is to buy properties in Helmsburg that are “distressed” or “abandoned” and to convert them to livable, owner-occupied homes, or to clear them and build new properties.
“We would just like to encourage our commissioners to help us with this and encourage the RDC (Brown County Redevelopment Commission) to help make Helmsburg more interesting and vital place like it once was,” said Jenny Austin, who has lived in Helmsburg for decades.
Austin read to the county commissioners a list of 27 businesses that had once operated in Helmsburg over the past 50 years, including grocery stores, a broom factory, a blacksmith shop, two gas stations, an antique business, a barber shop and a water utility office.
“Helmsburg offers the unique opportunity for investment in Brown County with sewer service, high-speed internet access and access to State Road 45. Much of the area along State Road 45 is already zoned commercial. Helmsburg has a rich history of commerce,” she said.
More than a dozen residents and business owners have been participating in Helmsburg Leadership Team meetings since last fall. They had asked the RDC to step in and help them take bigger steps to revitalize their community.
At the commissioners’ May 3 meeting, Brown County resident Sherrie Mitchell expressed concern about the power the redevelopment commission could have once the EDA is established. She asked the county commissioners to create a citizen oversight board of three to five community members, who would have some say in the redevelopment commission’s work in their area.
That amendment was not added to the resolution the county commissioners signed.
Helmsburg Leadership Team member Cindy Steele said participation by Helmsburg residents has been strong so far.
“We keep a list where people sign in. I think the most we’ve had is 28 people, but those people are business people and also residents of the community. It’s really grassroots efforts. There’s a lot of interest in seeing Helmsburg come alive again,” she said.
Mitchell expressed concerns about the amount of power Indiana Code 36-7-14 would give to the redevelopment commission if an EDA was established. Under the law, the EDA can be in place for at least 10 years, she said.
“I am not saying they will abuse it — not these people, because I really think their hearts are in the right place — but what about in five years or six years or seven years? If these guys quit and new people come on there and they are just a little bit more greedy, this could be a potential for nepotism and despotism,” she said.
From the audience, redevelopment commission member Jim Schultz said that there are “fail-safes” in place to prevent any abuse of power.
“We serve at your discretion. We can be removed at any time. We also serve only one-year terms,” he said.
“I am not arguing against potentially having a community council, or whatever it is, I just don’t know what that mechanism is,” he said.
Redevelopment commission member Tim Clark agreed. “We don’t have any money. For one, to get money I’ll imagine the (county) council will ask us for a plan, and to come up with a plan, I imagine we’ll go through the same process we did here: Involve the community, involve the plan commission and involve other people who are relevant,” he said.
The next step for the Helmsburg EDA resolution is a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the County Office Building; then citizens could remonstrate against it if they wish.