The Henry County Food & Beverage Committee wrapped up their work Thursday with not one project list, but two.
The advisory committee is giving the Henry County Council a couple different options on how to spend a couple million dollars of local sales tax.
The Food & Beverage volunteer committee was tasked last summer with doing the homework and heavy lifting so the elected officials would have a better idea of where those tax dollars would have the biggest economic bang or bring in the most tourist bucks.
Another level of the calculus they had to consider was that Henry County has $1.2 million in Food & Beverage money in the bank, but the county council l also has the option to borrow more money against future tax revenue. The council gave the citizen committee a secondary maximum limit of $4.4 million.
As interest rates on government loans (bonds) have shifted, that secondary limit has also fluctuated, although it stayed above the $4 million watermark.
To give the county council as much information as they could, the Food & Beverage Advisory Committee worked Thursday night to create a project list within the original $4.4 million budget and another limited to the $1.2 million cash on hand.
Food & Beverage Tax
The Henry County Food & Beverage tax was created in the late 1980s to help build the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle. The money is collected from restaurants and gas stations, ideally from visitors coming to Henry County.
After the Hall of Fame was paid off, Henry County leaders used Food & Beverage money to help pay for the Ivy Tech campus on Ind. 3, improve the Industrial Park to entice new factories and dozens of smaller projects aimed at improving their communities’ drawing power.
This current Food & Beverage committee received 32 applications in this round of project requests.
Three projects were cut in the first round of committee meetings. A fourth withdrew their application before the public presentations in February.
The committee members graded each project using a ranking system developed by member Dave Wagner.
Additionally, they considered the following factors:
Greatest long-term economic and tourism impact
Local enthusiasm or negative feedback for the project
Appearance of conflict of interest or fairness
Henry County communities feeling left out
$4.4 million recommendation
The advisory committee met for its second time in Middletown Thursday night. Previous meeting had taken place in Knightstown and New Castle, increasing access to the process for people from all over Henry County.
During their first Middletown meeting earlier this week, the committee drafted a recommendation list that lowered funding request for several high-dollar projects. At that Feb. 28 meeting, their list came up to $4.1 million.
Committee vice chair Corey Murphy was tasked with reaching out to those applicants who’d been recommended for a lower amount: the Henry County Saddle Club, the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, the Art Association of Henry County, the New Castle Henry County Sports Park, and the Trojan Lane project.
“All of those applicants responded in the affirmative that they could accept the lower recommended amount, subject to approval by the county council, and still move forward with a successful project,” Murphy said.
At the start of Thursday’s meeting, the committee looked at that preliminary list again and considered filling it out to the original $4.4 million limit.
Before they considered adding more projects, Murphy asked to talk some more about Memorial Park’s $35,000 request to fund the 2022 fireworks show.
Committee chair Landon Dean commented that there was community pushback from putting that project on the list.
“I got some negative feedback from that being included because it is a one-time shot,” Dean said. “Some people weren’t very happy about that.”
The committee voted 5-1 to take the fireworks off the recommendation list. Wagner voted against.
“I will work very had to help people raise money for that fireworks show,” Dean said.
The committee found themselves then with about $300,000 to distribute to the remaining projects.
Going down the ranking list, the committee considered the Henry County Expo Center, the YMCA, the Memorial Park Shelter House and the Middletown street lighting project.
They questioned how much of an impact that amount of money would have for the Expo Center and its current phase of construction.
They also wondered if the Shelter House estimate included a new heating system and if the park management had considered any special requirements now that Memorial Park is on the Historic Registry.
The committee considered, too, the tourism or economic development potential of old-style street lighting in Middletown.
YMCA CEO Chris Williams addressed funding questions the committee had about that project. Williams said the Y has asked for additional grant funding through the state’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) program.
Williams hopes local corporate sponsors will also donate to the expansion so their employees will have more childcare options.
Committee member Susan Falck-Neal moved to recommend the YMCA project receive the remaining balance of the $4.4 mil. The motion passed unanimously.
Murphy suggested the Historic Shelter House renovation project be included on their recommendation as an alternative project, in case something ahead of it fell through. The committee unanimously agreed.
They accepted the $4.4 million recommendation list with a 6-0 vote. Members Mary Nicholson and Don Davis were not at the meeting.