Hot-topic items: Boone County, municipal leaders discuss popular topics at State of the Community panel

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A Boone County commissioner, Boone County council member and several other municipal leaders gathered March 5 at the Boone County Fairgrounds for the second State of the Community panel discussion.

Panel members covered important Boone County topics. The panel was moderated by Boone County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Molly Whitehead.

Topics included public transportation, infrastructure improvement and growing the employable population, among other items.

MASS TRANSIT

With regard to mass transit and how it would benefit Boone County,  panel speakers agreed on the need for more details.

“It depends,” Zionsville Town Council President Josh Garrett said. “That’s a hard one to answer without knowing more details about what (mass transit) really means. My gut reaction is, no, because I don’t think it would be all that successful.”

Garrett said because of the way the county is spread out, a mass transit system where workers would have to travel to a bus stop, park their car and then board a bus doesn’t seem practical.

Whitestown Town Council President Clinton Bohm said the Town of Whitestown was sampling what mass transit may look like with the implementation of the Whitestown Connector with the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority.

The Whitestown Connector works to connect Central Indiana employees to Whitestown jobs. The Whitestown Connector travels through the Allpoints at Anson industrial park as well as industrial parks along Indianapolis Road in Whitestown.

Bohm said the town is using the Whitestown Connector to gauge the whether mass transit is is a sustainable option.

“I think the biggest thing here is we can’t just say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to something without more information. The plan, the details, that’s how we are going to know if something is good for Boone County or not,” Bohm said. “We should be open to options that are going to make our place better and attract people here.”

GROWING AN EMPLOYABLE POPULATION

Garrett said he a two-pronged approach is required to grow the employable population in Zionsville and Boone County.

“One is certainly creating an environment that is welcoming to businesses either trying to relocate or expand, but another piece to that is really trying to nurture your own,” Garrett said. “Find folks with ideas and create an environment for them where they can not only create that company, but help them find the funding they need to grow that business. Put entrepreneurs in touch with folks willing to fund them.”

Garrett credited zWORKS with accomplishing that objective.

PREPARING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR GROWTH

Most of the panel cited hidden infrastructure, such as water main pipes, as the major areas of concern.

“The one that makes me nervous is the ones you can’t see – the pipes, the water main sewers. Most of Lebanon, it’s an older town, so some of our pipes are 75-plus years old,” Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry said.  “That’s a huge challenge a lot of older cities have. That’s a huge issue.”

Gentry said the City of Lebanon, for the first time, created a five-year capital plan for water infrastructure within the city.

Boone County leaders touched on how they are paving certain gravel roads within the county. Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe said the county drafted a memorandum of understanding with the Town of Zionsville to address growth as the town reorganizes.

“We still have 300-some county roads that are gravel. We have a plan together starting to work. We are starting to move to converting some of those gravel roads to pavement,” Wolfe said. “As Zionsville grows and chooses which roads they take into their system, we must maintain the remainder in that reorganized area. The memorandum of understanding helps us know who’s doing what. That’s the most important thing, knowing who’s doing what at what time.”

Wolfe said in 2018, the county paved 3 miles of gravel roads and plans to pave an additional 5 1/2 miles this year.

Potential jail expansion

One topic Boone County leaders discussed at the March 5 State of the Community was a possible expansion of the Boone County Jail.

Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe said the county has worked closely with Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen to determine the best option: A physical expansion of the jail, a treatment program expansion or something else.

“We are hoping we can put together something that may not provide more beds for people to be incarcerated in, but more opportunities for them to not be incarcerated in the future,” Wolfe said. “We are expanding the community corrections program annually, which is keeping 85 to 90 people out of our jail today.”

Wolfe said jail planning will become more of a focus within the next two or three years. He also said 80 percent of inmates are incarcerated on drug-related charges. 

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