Susan Huhn cast her first tie-breaking vote as the Henry County Council president Thursday.

The question at hand was about joining neighboring counties in the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (EIRPC).

Huhn’s deciding vote was a “no” on joining the EIRPC. She left the door open to revisit the idea next year, however.

Thursday’s discussion and vote on the EIRPC was the continuation of a conversation started earlier this month. Henry County can join the group for about $18,000.

The 2018 Henry County Council and Commissioners agreed to pursue membership to the regional group. This year’s council – the majority of which are newly elected to the body – wanted to know more about the EIRPC before deciding whether or not to join.

Council member Chad Malicoat attended a meeting of the EIRPC earlier that day and shared his experiences before Huhn called for a vote on joining.

“We join these (regional groups) so we can collaborate with ... other counties that are similar to us in a rural situation,” Malicoat said.

Malicoat said being an EIRPC member might also open up grant opportunities, but that is only a small piece of the puzzle.

Being able to collaborate is the main benefit, he said.

Henry County Commissioner Ed Yanos attended the regional planning commission meeting with Malicoat. Yanos said the collaboration he saw could have value well beyond the annual membership fee.

“At the end of the day, we have to look at it as an investment for a long-term gain,” Malicoat said. “In my opinion, I think it’s an investment in the future.”

Council member Kenon Gray agreed that joining the EIRPC could be a good investment. He said Henry County just can’t afford something like this right now.

“Basically, if we weren’t $700,000 borrowing from two different funds and weren’t talking about deficits here, I think this would be an extraordinary good investment for the future,” Gray said. “But that’s not the reality of our finances.”

The former county council had to borrow $300,000 from the Henry County Cumulative Bridge fund and Drain Maintenance fund in December to cover end-of-year employee health insurance costs.

The current council has to pay that money back to the Surveyor’s office and the Highway Department by the end of June.

“I just don’t know that it’d be a wise use of the taxpayers’ limited funds given our current financial status,” Gray said.

Huhn called for a vote after several minutes of discussion.

Council members Chad Malicoat, Clay Morgan and Mike Thalls voted to join the EIRPC.

Council members Kenon Gray, Harold Griffin and Peg Stefandel voted against joining.

Huhn’s tie-breaking vote was to not join the group this year.

Huhn said she wants to support local economic development while also being responsible with county taxpayers’ money.

Huhn hopes to work with Middletown, Spiceland and Knightstown over the next year in preparation of possibly joining the EIRPC in 2020.

© Copyright 2019, The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN.