Potential funding for various projects in Jay County will have to wait at least another year.

The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced on a call Monday, and later in a press release, that the Stellar Communities program has been suspended for 2020 to allow more state funds to be directed to COVID-19 relief efforts.

Earning the Stellar designation opens the door for a community receive grants and other incentives from state agencies, including millions in federal Community Development Block Grants through OCRA. The Jay! region — Jay County and its municipalities — was one of four finalists for Stellar’s 2019 designation. The region was planning to apply again this year.

Though he’s disappointed but understanding of its cancellation, Jay County Commissioner Chuck Huffman said he expects the region to apply again next year.

Huffman said it’s vital that county commissioners stay true to the $2 million they set aside to the fund the county’s required local match if it receives the Stellar designation. He said he has received a commitment from fellow commissioner Chad Aker that those funds will stay available for Stellar.

More than a third, about $775,000 of the $2 million, of the funds dedicated to the region’s local match comes from the county’s economic development income tax, Huffman said. The rest comes from the $1.65 million economic development agreement with Scout Clean Energy, which is constructing Bitter Ridge Wind Farm in southwestern Jay County.

Projects in Jay!’s 2019 application included senior housing, walking trails, facade revitalization, a new home for Dunkirk Public Library and The Glass Museum and a variety of others.

Jay County Community Development’s Ami Huffman, who was on the call with OCRA when the news broke, said the county has to focus on what is in its control.

“(The cancellation) means that we continue to do the things we can do,” she said.

Part of what is in Jay!’s control is the $333,000 for community development it received from being a Stellar finalist last year. Though Jay! hasn’t decided what to do with the funds yet — the money must be used to complete a local project that meets federal guidelines — she said it’s vital for the potential 2021 Stellar designation that the region shows it is doing the best it can despite the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the process of choosing a project, the region must hold two public meetings to gather input. With Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order in place, the local Stellar leadership team is working with OCRA to determine alternate options for those meetings in order to comply with state deadlines.
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