Income surveys needed for economic development grant

Within the next week or so, about 3,000 randomly chosen Brown County residents will receive a survey in the mail asking about their income.

Don’t throw it away and don’t set it aside, county economic development leaders ask.

The county needs at least 560 households to complete and return the survey within three days. No names will be attached to it, only numbers for the sake of confidentiality, the letter says.

income survey

The information is needed for the county to apply for a $40,000 economic development planning grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

That could be followed by a $50,000 grant to update Brown County’s comprehensive plan. The plan, which sets objectives and supporting policies for development in Brown County, was last updated by a group of local residents in 2010-11, and county government adopted it in 2012. Zoning boards and others still refer to it when considering land use changes and what is “appropriate” for Brown County.

Various groups in Brown County and Nashville have done studies related to economic development or specific projects over the past 20 years. But unlike past efforts, this one will produce a targeted action plan, said Tina Bedey.

She’s a member of the Brown County Redevelopment Commission, a group of volunteer residents appointed by elected officials to lead economic development.

“What we’ve done in the past is gather a lot of critical information to understand what’s happening. Now we’re trying to take all of that and develop a plan for the future,” Bedey said.

This planning effort would pull together information a potential investor would need to know about Brown County when deciding whether or not to choose this community. Data about the county’s economic base, strengths and weaknesses, infrastructure, labor force, “community values,” economic opportunities, recommendations and the “action plan” to move forward — that’s the minimum the county is expecting to see, redevelopment commission member Tim Clark said.

“We can’t attract investors if we don’t have a plan,” Bedey said.

They also hope it will show what area of the county will be the best focus for development.

By “investment,” and “development,” they aren’t talking about factories and altered skylines.

“The whole point is to not have an impact on the current footprint. We want to keep this community basically the way it is. It’s nature-focused,” Bedey said.

“We’re not trying to come in here and put a bunch of shopping malls and all that kind of stuff. That’s not the kind of development we’re talking about. We’re talking about giving people affordable housing so that more people that work in the surrounding counties can choose to live here with us and contribute to our income of the county. They’re already passing through it anyway.

“You can put a group of highly paid IT developers in the woods and they’re not going to affect anybody — you’ll never know they’re here — and they’re going to contribute substantial amounts to this county in income tax,” Bedey said.

Redevelopment leaders have been studying statistics pertaining to Brown County. Among them are community vitality indicators, or CVIs, which measure assessed property value, per capita income and the income taxes that come from it, population growth, the education level of residents and public school enrollment.

Data show that 54 of Indiana’s 92 counties are in population decline, and Brown County is one of them.

Higher CVIs are common among healthy communities and plans should be developed to encourage them, OCRA’s website says.

Redevelopment commission members are aware that the words “growth” and “development” could turn some residents off. But these conversations need to be had and the data needs to be understood if Brown County is to even remain the way it is, Clark said.

“You don’t have to grow the county. Now what? What are you going to cut? We could have that conversation. I don’t know what that looks like in this county,” he said.

Brown County Schools’ recent $1 million budget reduction showed the real-world effect of lower school enrollment, Clark said, calling the school district “the canary in the coal mine.”

“These things have told us that if we continue doing nothing, or if we don’t do anything, we could end up in some kind of a deficit or a downturn or start to struggle,” Bedey said. “You’re going to struggle to pay for the services you need to continue to live here.

“That is what’s prefacing the need to look at ideas on how we expand our ability to build more sustainability, so even the people that are living here now can maintain what they have. That’s the whole reason we’re even doing this. We’re going to do the (income) survey so that we can get grants, so we can hire some experts, so we can figure out how to do that,” Bedey said.

If the income surveys show that at least 51 percent of residents are of low to moderate income, Brown County can apply for the planning grant, Clark said.

There will be points when local people can participate in the formation of the economic development plan, including a public “community conversation,” Bedey said.

“The community has got to buy into whatever it is,” Clark said.

Surveys are expected to start arriving in mailboxes in mid-June.

It’ll take about two months for the county to go through the application process and five months to write the grant, so it could be the beginning of next year before any plan contractor could actually start working with the county, Clark said.

About the income survey

Who: About 3,000 randomly chosen Brown County residents will receive it in the mail. The list could include full-time and part-time residents.

When: The survey will be mailed in mid-June. If enough responses aren’t received in the first mailing, another one might go out later.

What it looks like: The survey is printed on gold/yellow paper. It will come in an envelope from Kleinpeter Consulting Group LLC with a Whiteland address.

What it asks: How many people are in the family; if total income of all family members is above or below a certain number; ethnic and racial information; and family makeup including age, disability status and whether or not a woman is the head of a household.

Why: The county must prove that at least 51 percent of residents are of low to moderate income in order to apply for an economic development planning grant. Local leaders say a plan is needed in order to attract investment in Brown County.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.