There was much ado about quite a lot, actually, in the old circuit courtroom Thursday night.
The Henry County Council decided, among other things, to join the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission as a way to partner with neighboring rural communities.
Henry County had been poised to join the regional group at the end of 2018. The previous council voted a year ago to join the EIRPC and budgeted $18,000 to cover the annual membership fee.
When the 2019 council formed in January, four members had been replaced. This new council was not comfortable committing that much money to a group they weren’t familiar with.
At the January meeting, the Henry County Council voted a motion to join the EIRPC down 4-3.
Thursday night, the council revisited the idea and ultimately voted 6-1 to join the regional commission.
Some people in the audience wanted to give the New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Commission or this newspaper credit for changing the minds of the county council members.
According to the elected officials themselves, the decision actually came from a lot of homework and communication with their counterparts around the county.
Council president Susan Huhn explained she cast the deciding “no” vote in January because Henry County is facing a major problem paying for employee health insurance.
“I wasn’t willing to consider funding it when I wasn’t sure we had buy in,” Huhn said Thursday.
If Henry County joins the EIRPC, the City of New Castle and the towns of Middletown, Knightstown, Spiceland and Kennard would also be expected to participate.
Huhn said she began talking with New Castle City Council member Aaron Dicken right after that January meeting.
The New Castle City Council heard from EIRPC representatives in February, and city council member Jerry Walden attended an EIRPC board meeting.
“I think it makes sense for us to be a part of a regional planning commission,” New Castle Mayor Greg York said last month.
Dicken addressed the Henry County Council at the courthouse Thursday.
Dicken said he and Walden discussed the idea of joining the EIRPC at length, weighing financial burdens and possible opportunities that come from being a member of a regional group.
Dicken suggested city and county leaders could shoulder the yoke together.
“This is not the city asking the county to buy us a pony because that’s what we want,” he said. “This is the city professionally offering to partner with the county to ease the financial burden of this opportunity in order to continue our growth throughout the entire Henry County community.”
Dicken acknowledged that he and Walden are only two votes on the city council. He said the rest of the city representatives seemed to be on board with the idea.
County Council member Chad Malicoat has spent the past month meeting with council members from Spiceland, Middletown and Knightstown.
Malicoat said those communities, plus New Castle and Kennard, would have a seat at the EIRPC table because of their population sizes.
“We have definite buy-in from three of the five,” Malicoat said Thursday.
Miscommunication and two votes
The Henry County Council ended up voting twice Thursday on whether or not to join the EIRPC.
Malicoat made an first motion to join the group. Malicoat’s motion was that the Henry County government would pay about $11,000 and the New Castle government would cover the remaining $7,000 or so.
Before that vote, council member Kenon Gray raised an objection about how much the City of New Castle should pay of the $18,000 bill.
Membership to EIRPC is based on total county population, amounting to 40 cents per resident.
Gray argued that New Castle had about half the county’s citizens, so the bill should be split 50/50 between the two councils.
Huhn called the vote and it failed 3-4, the same as in January.
After further discussion and research on current Henry County population estimates, Gray agreed that the county has close to 46,000 people and the city has around 17,000.
“I came here tonight prepared to say yes,” Gray said. “My main objection was I was incorrect on the numbers.”
Gray made a motion to accept membership into EIRPC, based on accurate population percentages.
“I would not attach a specific amount tonight to that,” Gray said.
The vote passed 6-1, with council member Peg Stefandel voting against.