On Feb. 26, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it had suspended all hazard mitigation grant program funding to the state of Indiana after Kokomo failed to come into compliance on several parcels of land within Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

In an attempt to provide the biggest splash in this seemingly endless political charade, the federal agency decided to punish up to 20 counties for the city’s slightly innocuous construction violations, claiming Kokomo had left them no choice.  

In a letter from FEMA Regional Administrator Andrew Velasquez III to Indiana Department of Homeland Security Executive Director David Kane, Velasquez said the federal agency was taking action due to the city’s “continuing violation of the open space requirements attached to the parcels of land it acquired with Hazard Mitigation Grant funding on which it is currently constructing the Kokomo Municipal Baseball Stadium.”

The openly drastic move seemed to catch city officials somewhat off guard, but was, for the most part, not totally unexpected.

“We’re not completely surprised by the letter,” said Randy McKay, director of operations for the city, in a phone interview on Feb. 26. “At the end of the day, Gov. [Mike] Pence is very much aware of what’s going on where and the federal overreach isn’t much of surprise to us or the state.”

Only six weeks ago, the possibility of FEMA withdrawing hazard mitigation funding had seemed distinctly improbable. For some, it was almost inconceivable.

“There is no concern of FEMA funds being withdrawn,” IDHS spokesman John Erickson said on Jan. 23. “As long as IDHS is handling the situation on FEMA’s behalf, FEMA will not withdraw funds. We are on solid ground when it comes to the whole state.”

However, by Feb. 9, Erickson had changed his tune, foreshadowing the federal restrictions that appear to have been an inevitable result all along.

“That statement isn’t valid anymore,” Erickson said, referring to his claims on Jan. 23.

At this point, it seems difficult to know on whose head to place the blame, but one thing is clear: FEMA’s feverish involvement with Kokomo Municipal Stadium comes as an unfortunate irony following its lack of participation in the city’s 2013 rebuilding efforts.

Kokomo to receive housing complex

Following the news of FEMA’s funding suspension, city officials were able to break some positive news, announcing plans for a $9.5-million project that will place a three-story, 69-unit housing complex at 600 N. Apperson Way.  

The project, which will be constructed by Indianapolis-based developer The Whitsett Group and Company, will provide housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income families. To assist such residents, rent will be determined on a sliding scale, taking into account a resident’s personal income.

“We want to make sure we have housing options for everyone involved,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight. “It is important to have housing for those just starting out, along with those on the high end."

In addition to affordable housing, the complex also will help beautify an area that has long been infested with blighted housing and empty business properties.

“We are very excited about approval of this project,” said Goodnight. “Apperson Way Apartments replaces a blighted area of the city with a new, affordable housing complex. The development is designed to dramatically transform this important gateway to Kokomo’s historic Near East Side.”

As the baseball stadium falters, the city continues to bring economic development and living opportunities to Kokomo. Now, if only these pesky commuters would stick around.

George Myers can be reached at 765-993-4724, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.

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