Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

April 2, 2014

JACK RONALD: Stellar Communities program always had sour taste

Chasing grants, cities often take eye off problems

bY JACK RONALD

Guest Columnist

It would be easy to dismiss the words that follow as sour grapes.

After all, when Dunkirk has faced disappointment twice in the Stellar Communities grant program run by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, it would be easy to dismiss any criticism.

And when you add to that the fact that Portland also went through two disappointing cycles with the same program, any commentary on our part at this point is going to look like the whining of a sore loser.

But these thoughts have been on our minds for about four years now, and we may as well get them off our chest.

Here goes:

• The Stellar Communities program is a bad idea poorly executed.

• Its primary goals are political rather than substantive.

• It wastes thousands of volunteer hours and equal amounts of effort by local government officials with little time to waste.

• It stalls projects that might otherwise move forward, simply by holding a jackpot prize out there as a distraction. It confuses needs with wants.

• And — other than politicians who get to take part in photo opportunities — its primary beneficiaries are engineering and consulting firms, some of which specialize in drawing castles in the air.

What is the Stellar Communities program? It’s a project that was launched in 2010.

The idea was that rather than spread grant money around to lots of different communities, OCRA (the Office of Community and Rural Affairs) would hold a competition and bestow an abundance of grant money on just two communities a year. Big impact, big bucks, big publicity and big political payoff.

And at the outset, it wasn’t a bad notion. It succeeded in getting rural communities to think about their needs in a more wholistic fashion. Instead of lots of little projects, cities and towns started to think bigger, coupling parks projects with sewer separation, connecting senior housing complexes with libraries and downtowns.

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