The Washington County Council unanimously voted during a meeting Monday to join the authority. It follows Floyd, Clark and Scott counties.

Together, they will appoint a five-member board tasked with forming a vision for the region, outlining how state funding would be spent. If granted, the appointed board would oversee money and execute projects aimed at enhancing the region's quality of life and economic development.

 "We did our homework and decided if that's the way the state of Indiana wants to dole out funding, then we want to get on board," Washington County Councilman Todd Ewan said.

One Southern Indiana president and CEO Wendy Dant Chesser said she is having "active conversations" with officials in Harrison and Jefferson counties.

"In the conversations with Jefferson and Harrison both, I think the anticipation is it's sort of like their last month to try this, because the other counties that are ready are ready to start," Dant Chesser said.

She expects officials in all participating counties (per law, that's up to the county commissioners) will appoint the five members to the board by the end of October.

Though Dant Chesser said officials are anxious to begin, the state hasn't yet announced an application deadline — or a total funding amount.

The Indiana General Assembly budgeted $15 million for two years to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. One of the ways it could implement the money is by funding a second round of the Regional Cities Initiative. Another option would be establishing a fourth Port of Indiana.

Though there's no certainty that any of the money will go toward the RCI, Dant Chesser said IEDC officials are well aware of Southern Indiana's interest.

Abby Gras, IEDC spokeswoman, said the state agency intends to finalize a plan for allocating these funds by the end of the year.

"In the governor's 2017-2018 budget, he requested $4 million to continue the momentum of the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative toward improving quality of place to attract and retain talent in Indiana," Gras stated in an email. "We are currently working to determine how to allocate funds to the Regional Cities Initiative within the $30 million that was budgeted for a variety of initiatives."

Two years ago, Washington County initially agreed to join the regional development authority as part of former Gov. Mike Pence's Regional Cities Initiative.

"We felt pressured to move and then at the last minute, we got shaky and decided to withdraw," Ewan said.

At the time, Clark and Scott counties also voted to form a regional development authority, but Clark rescinded its participation when the region failed to meet an application deadline.

Three regional development authorities received $42 million in state funding as part of the Regional Cities Initiative in 2015 — meant to make up 20 percent of the total cost of RCI projects. They were the North Central, Northeast and Southwest RDAs.

Since then, legislators have removed a regional development authority's ability to exercise eminent domain. Dant Chesser believes that was a "big sticking point" for many local officials.

Southern Indiana is the only region moving through the process to create an RDA, Dant Chesser said. It's possible this region could be competing for funding against the four RDAs that didn't receive money two years ago: three across Indiana's midsection — West Central, Central and East Central — plus the Northwest RDA.

News and Tribune Logo