Paving is scheduled for this year. Wind farm construction is possible. And officials are hoping for a Stellar designation as well.

Those were the top items on Jay County Commissioners’ president Chuck Huffman’s list in looking ahead to the rest of 2019 as he and county council president Jeanne Houchins presented the State of the County Address on Thursday.

Huffman pointed to the Stellar Regional designation (formerly Stellar Communities) as the focus for the year, as the county and its six municipalities work together on the application. Portland, Dunkirk, Redkey and Pennville have worked on revitalization plans over the course of the last year in preparation for the Stellar process.

Receiving the designation through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs would open the door for funding for local projects through a variety of state agencies.

“I don’t like to use ‘transformative,’ because I think it’s an overused word today, but it really speaks to what this will be to all of Jay County,” said Huffman during the speech at Indiana University Health Jay Hospital. “It will be transformative to what we can have and what we can offer and what we can attract.”

Huffman also pointed toward the various road work that is slated for this year with most directly impacted by Community Crossings Grant Program.

For the county, grant funding is helping pay for paving of Boundary Pike and freed up county funds that are planned for paving for Como Road and county road 500 West. County engineer Dan Watson is currently working on an application for funding to pave New Mount Pleasant Road, and the county plans to convert three roads — county roads 200 East, 300 South and 350 South — from stone to hard surface this year.

Huffman also noted the more than $1 million in Community Crossings grant funds awarded to Portland, Dunkirk, Pennville, Bryant and Salamonia, some with local matching funds from wind farm economic development dollars, that will result in paving in each of those communities. 

“This is something that I don’t know how they would have ever done it,” said Huffman in referencing the work in Pennville, Bryant and Salamonia. “And this will get their streets in good shape for many, many years. … It was just a real win-win, to have the wind farm monies to begin with, and then to leverage them the way we did to get that done.” 

He added that Scout Clean Energy, developer of Bitter Ridge Wind Farm in Jefferson and Richland townships, is still hoping to begin construction on the $130 million construction project this year. The next step in that process is finding a buyer for the energy the wind farm will produce.

And though not a county project, Huffman applauded efforts by Watch Communications to expand broadband internet service through the federal Connect America Fund program and in partnership with Jay School Corporation.

In looking back at the previous year, Huffman and Houchins hit on several of the same notes, including the extensive wind farm discussion and work to stabilize finances for Jay County Regional Sewer District. Both praised Jay Emergency Medical Service for work to get its finances and operations in order, specifically thanking shift supervisors Gary Barnett, Emily Anderson and John McFarland for their leadership.

Huffman also noted the distribution of wind farm economic development funds to initiatives such as school safety and the construction of a new Farmers Building at Jay County Fairgrounds.

Houchins pointed to the county’s efforts to regain financial strength after its year-end cash balance had dwindled. The county ended 2018 with $2.54 million in its general fund, up from $289,381 at the close of 2014. 

She said the county’s efforts toward that financial stability should allow it to continue to give employee raises. She also noted efforts to work with Jay School Corporation to provide a full-time school resource officer by the start of the 2019-20 school year.

She sees the county’s future as a whole to be bright.

“I think if we just keep working the way we are and working together, I’m pretty sure we all have the same goal,” said Houchins. “We want it to succeed. I think Jay County’s in good shape right now and only going to get better.”