Updated version available at:
Independent Voters of Brown County IN
Updated version available at:
Independent Voters of Brown County IN
The following post was published in a Guest Column in the Brown County Democrat on Dec 27, 2017 titled: The role of process in the future of Brown County
The Maple Leaf Music Venue and Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) project and the process used to fast-track approval may represent a turning point for the future of the county. This article is a first in a series that will provide a perspective on our current reality and offer additional options that may contribute to Brown County remaining a desirable place, to live, work, play and visit.
A government best practice for determining the optimum investment options for revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would be identified in a Comprehensive Plan or an annex to the plan that includes a strategy for tourism. Such a plan has yet to be developed. A good “plan” includes expected outcomes, actions and milestones, and required resources.
To provide the needed objectivity regarding the feasibility of this project, it was initially suggested by the county attorneys that the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) become involved which would have helped ensure a thorough review on the feasibility of the project.
The plan by the RDC was to involve all affected government offices to include holding several public meetings to solicit input and feedback from the citizenry. The process would have included identifying, quantifying and acknowledging opportunity costs and the risks associated with the project The outcome may have been the same but the public may have had more assurance that the government performed their due diligence.
Before the RDC could hold their first public meeting to discuss their plan, they were told by two of the three commissioners at their July meeting, that their involvement would no longer be needed. Before the county council approved the project on Nov 20, a member of the council confirmed that they did not commit funding for an independent feasibility study of MLPAC.
Renowned inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller remarked that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
My next article in this series will include two objectives: Identify likely effects of MLPAC and identify “a new model” of citizen engagement that can result in outcomes where everyone can benefit, or at least, will not be any worse off in the long term.
More Info: Maple Leaf Project – For the Record
The recent community conversation on the status of the Salt Creek Trail reinforces that using ad-hoc teams to identify and manage projects independent of a county strategy and comprehensive planning can be problematic.
Salt Creek Trail has not been the only County project that has risks that can be eliminated or mitigated through improvements in the planning process. Without better planning, we will continue to take a reactive “whack a mole” approach as issues bubble to the surface. Current projects include the following:
Project results – be they good or bad, are determined by processes (habits, approaches) that are used in leading and managing the respective project. An improved process for identifying and managing projects can prevent problems and provide project leaders with the needed support from the community. Successful projects that meet the expectations of the citizens make a positive contribution to our culture and quality of life.
As a certified quality auditor – now semi-retired, I have conducted and supported performance and process reviews in a wide variety of areas and industries. The scope of projects ranged from improving math skills and management issues in elementary and high schools to assessing compliance of government agencies with financial management controls required by federal and state statutes to improving national defense-related strategies.
Process reviews consist of assessing an organization’s processes (habits, approaches) and their respective capabilities in meeting the needs and expectations of the customer and other stakeholders. Findings often supported the adage that “If you always do what you always did, on average, you will usually get what you always got” — 99.73% of the time.
In considering needed changes, the overwhelming preference – despite the risks and quality of the outcome, is often to maintain the status quo. To break the gravitational pull of the old habits, there must be a sense of urgency that change is required to produce the desired result.
Regarding urgency, many rural counties throughout the country including Brown County, face projected declines in the population that contribute to a declining tax base. This decline may require frequent and recurring tax increases and cuts in services unless the situation can be improved. Indiana counties are funded primarily by property and income tax. New residential and business developments that are supported by the citizenry and will result in increases in the tax base can help mitigate the projected economic decline.
Attracting investors for residential and business developments requires the formulation and updating of a comprehensive (master) plan that reinforces the community vision and values, and includes the immediate and long-range reports and plans necessary to implement the desires of the community. Elements of master planning could include strategies and plans in the following areas: Broadband (Internet), Trail Systems, Wastewater Treatment, Residential Housing, Land Use, Thoroughfares, Tourism, and Capital Improvements.
With a master plan, community leaders can market the plan to private investors and companies can then use the plan to assess their risks and return on investment to seriously evaluate expansion and growth in Brown County.
To help develop support for the right projects, developments requiring taxpayer funding or other support must be guided by the policies and goals specified in the county comprehensive plan. The current 14-page comprehensive plan was approved in 2012 and provides general guidance concerning the future of Brown County. Larger counties in Indiana can have more detailed plans that exceed 200 pages. Additional information on this approach is provided by The Indiana Citizens Planners Guide. Another useful guide for developing effective project management plans and schedules is available from the Project Management Institute.
An immediate and incremental change to supplement the county comprehensive plan with the plans from current projects represents a proven strategy. This change to the status quo will help support elected leaders to maintain required project oversight, engages the citizenry, and ensures the community that actions align with the vision for the county. This change can take us a step forward in building a master plan that will convince potential new residents and investors that Brown County remains a desirable place to live, work, play and invest!
Economic impact studies of tourism in Indiana and Brown County reinforce the benefits of sustaining a tourism industry. However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County. Further, too much tourism can have detrimental effects on the attributes that have attracted pioneers, artists, residents, and visitors to Brown County since 1836.
The Brown County Community Readiness Initiatives, a survey and economic assessment conducted by the Ball State Economic and Research Institute concluded that Brown County’s greatest potential for economic growth is not tourism but as a bedroom community. This option is defined as attracting individuals and families that live in Brown County but can work at home or commute to the higher paying jobs outside the county.
This is not a new phenomenon. Past economic studies have identified that the majority of citizens in Brown County commute outside the county for employment. This strategy is among the best strategies for having positive impacts on all five of our Community Vitality Indicators (CVIs) that include: assessed property value, per capita income, population, school enrollment and educational attainment rates.
The study also reinforced the importance of quality of place that includes good schools and amenities where people want to live. Identifying and maintaining these attributes must be identified in the county comprehensive plan.
A May 2017 assessment by graduate students of Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) reinforced the conclusions from the Ball State Study to include the importance of expanding the tax base to support the diversification of the business industries residing in the county.
The following chart includes data obtained from the U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tourism industry is represented in the supersector identified as Leisure and Hospitality. Comparing 2005 data with 2016 data identifies that the number of the establishments have stayed the same, jobs have decreased and wages are the lowest of the categories. Perhaps most important, the number of establishment in most categories have decreased with increases in the number of jobs in just a few areas.
In the 2014 Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in SouthWest Central Indiana, the Hospitality and Tourism Sector was identified as having 181 establishments in the region employing 3,506 employees with the lowest average wage ($24,477) of all the sectors.
To address the challenges within our region and with funding provided by Lilly Endowment, the Regional Opportunity Initiative (ROI) was established to: “Advance economic and community prosperity in an 11-county area that encompasses Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties.”
To prepare our students for successful careers, the Brown County Schools recently competed for and was awarded a grant from ROI to prepare our students to be qualified for the higher paying jobs. This can lead to a business climate and a workforce that will help attract new businesses to Brown County.
A Way Ahead
The Brown County Redevelopment (RDC) commission was tasked to identify county wide strategies that would result in improvement in the CVIs. Strategies will also need to consider courses of action if the tax base continues to decline.
The key priorities for the county include a focus on options that would provide the funding to support the capital improvements required to improve and expand the core infrastructure within the county. This infrastructure includes roads, water, sewer, broadband, police, fire and emergency services which would support the expansion of residential development and contribute to positive trends in the county CVIs.
The critical priority for the county includes broadband. Access to the internet is now considered a vital utility that is critical for leveraging the educational opportunities for our students as well as attracting businesses and new residents.
In support of this aim, the RDC has provided a proposal to the Area Plan Commission (APC) to work collaboratively in developing a comprehensive plan and economic strategy that will produce results where we will all benefit or at least, will not be any worse off.
Commissioners and Council and all their appointed commission and board members need to unite towards a common vision, plan, and strategy that has the support of the citizenry. The trend nationally has been one of polarization by wealth and political affiliation. The challenges and opportunities facing Brown Countians cannot be successfully addressed with a divided community. The citizens of Brown County should expect the collaboration and action that will lead to a sustainable economic future.
Brown County Redevelopment Commission
The explanation for the funding for the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) has identified that “tourists will pay for it through the innkeeper’s tax.” It has also been stated that building the venue will require borrowing at least 10.2 million dollars and issuing a bond. Although the strategy is to make the bond payments from the innkeeper’s tax, if the revenue from the venue is not sufficient to cover the payments, the responsibility to meet the bond requirements falls on the county taxpayers.
The project is also being marketed as a “too good to fail.” If this is true, then take some time to market the venue to private developers who can raise capital to fund the venture.
Maple Leaf in a different location (Gnaw Bone? Bean Blossom? Ski World?) could be an “anchor” facility that could support further residential and commercial development in the respective area that would be compatible with the comprehensive plan. This could include more housing that attracts businesses that can serve both the residential and tourist market.
A different location might also have the highest likelihood of resulting in positive trends in all the County’s Community Vitality Indicators (CVIs). CVIs include assessed value, per capita income, population growth, school enrollment, and educational attainment rate. A government owned venue does not generate property tax.
Establishment of the innkeeper’s tax required State government to pass a law – IC-6-9-14 Brown County Innkeepers Tax. The statute requires “county government” to provide the management and oversight of the revenue and to establish a five (5) member convention and visitors commission (CVC). The law states that the purpose of the commission is: “to promote the development and growth of conventions and visitation in the county.” CVC members are appointed by the Commissioners and Council.
Wikipedia identifies an extensive list of tourism related categories that would “promote the development and growth of visitation in the county” that includes: Cultural, Historical, Preservation, Education, Athletics, Arts, Agricultural, and Wellness/Fitness to name a few.
In regards to the statute, CVC member Barry Herring has remarked: “I think it’s primarily supposed to promote heads in beds. It’s supposed to promote overnight stays because it’s an innkeepers tax, that’s generated by innkeepers.”
The statute does not restrict tourist related options to those that may result in hotel stays. In fact, any of the options could result in overnight stays.
In reply to a question about the possible competition from the Opry, Herring replied: “We’re looking at it like a Branson (Missouri) scenario. We think the more, the better.” Note that Branson has been referred to as “the music capital of the entire universe” and includes numerous theatres built by nationally recognized entertainers. Gatlinburg has Dolly Parton.
The fact that Mr. Herring as the new owner of the Brown County Inn who is also a new member of the CVC had an epiphany regarding the options for investing revenue from the innkeeper’s tax should indicate that other investment opportunities may have been missed over the years.
The Comprehensive Plan is also mandated by law (Title 36, Article 7, Planning and Development). The Plan Commission is the body responsible for maintaining a comprehensive plan, which is required to be developed and maintained (IC 36-7-4-501) if the community wishes to exercise the power of zoning. The plan is the foundation for assessing whether new ideas fit into the strategy that citizens will support.
The Plan must be updated to include a tourism strategy that identifies the categories of tourism that taxpayers may want to support with revenue from the innkeeper’s tax. It is up to all the county citizens to decide how the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax can best be invested.
In addition to the plan, procedures also need to be developed by the plan commission and shared with the public that identifies the process that will be used by members to assess the benefits of a project against the criteria identified in the plan. This change can help assure the community that the plan commission performed their due diligence before providing a recommendation.
At the Area Plan Commission (APC) meeting on August 22, Bruce Gould presented the request for the required zoning change for MLPAC. Citizens had up to three minutes to communicate their support or lack of support for the project. Mr. Gould had the opportunity to provide a rebuttal. APC member Paul Navarro suggested that the county first conduct a traffic analysis and effects study before voting on the recommendation. The APC with few questions and little to no discussion among the members quickly voted to recommend approval. Paul Navarro was the only dissenting vote.
MLPAC proponents emphasized the possible benefits to the Town of Nashville and the tourism industry but did not provide a convincing argument as to why this was the best option for the county. The next step in the process requires the commissioners to listen to input from the citizens and to consider the APC ‘s recommendation for the zoning change.
I am a fifth-generation Hoosier who has enjoyed hiking, camping, biking and vacationing with my family in Brown County for over 50 years. My wife and I bought property here over 18 years ago with the intent of retiring here full-time, which we did in 2014. The current comprehensive plan identifies the vision for Brown County that I support, but it could be more specific in order to clearly identify what Brown Countians want and do not want regarding change and new development.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.
The Brown County Comprehensive Plan states that the purpose of the plan “is to provide guidance on decision making regarding Brown County land use, public service and zoning that enhances the quality of life for the residents based on the county’s natural beauty and rural atmosphere.”
The comprehensive plan further states that “the desire to preserve” is the major element in guiding the comprehensive plan for the county, and states: “People continue to come to Brown County to visit and live. We must plan to ensure that the residents’ reasons for choosing Brown County as a place to live are protected and preserved.”
The Area Plan Commission approved the zoning for the assisted living facility and the senior apartments. The zoning request for an adjacent property from agriculture to commercial to accommodate an entertainment venue is incompatible with the planning principles stated in the comprehensive plan, and the commitment made to the senior residents and neighboring property owners in the area.
Further, given the intent for Mr. Snyder to sell a section of his farmland for commercial purposes, it’s possible that he may choose to sell more land in the future. Now may be a good time to update the comprehensive plan to identify community expectations for the types of development for Snyder farm that the community will want to support. The update to the plan should also include a tourism-related policy and strategy.
The “voice of county residents” is captured in the comprehensive plan that guides any zoning related changes.
Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners and council, advocates of the project will be requesting a zoning change at the APC on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m.
This request should be denied.
The APC should consider beginning the process of involving the community in making any needed updates to the county comprehensive plan.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.
Tim Clark, Brown County
At the June 20, 2017, presentation to a crowd of approximately 100 people on the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) at the Brown County Playhouse, Commissioner Diana Biddle stated:
“We have planned ourselves to death: Strategic planning, strategic planning, strategic planning.” “It is time for strategic doing,”
Although this statement received a round of applause, and may accurately reflect the perception held by many in the community, there can be more to the story.
The Purdue University, Center for Regional Development has described “strategic doing” as including “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.” This future must be identified in a comprehensive plan and strategy. The last revision to the county comprehensive plans was in 2011, and the county does not have a published strategic plan.
Regarding the proposed MLPAC, the community at large has not had the opportunity at official public meetings to provide input on the best investment options for the revenue collected from the inn keepers tax nor were they involved in providing feedback on the size, scope, and location of a venue.
Further, citizens have not been provided with sufficient details on the nature of the $10.2 million dollar debt including information about the right, if any, to remonstrate. Although principal and interest on the debt can be paid with revenues from the inn keepers tax, taxpayers are likely at risk for the total debt.
Despite this lack of community engagement, advocates for the proposed MLPAC are on the Area Plan Commission agenda on August 22 and intend to request a zoning change for the Snyder Farm site.
An initial outline of the “proposed” MLPAC review and approval process was developed by the county attorneys – Barnes and Thornburg. The Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) initiated a review on the proposed MLPAC in the context of a county wide perspective. This review included an outline of an initial action plan that involves collaboration among all affected government offices to ensure the due diligence expected from taxpayers.
At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, Commissioner Biddle stated that the initial process that was outlined by Barnes and Thornburg was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC. An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.
The RDC is pursuing federal grants to fund updates to the county comprehensive plan and to fund development of an economic development strategic plan. These plans along with a five-year budgeting capability would include the key elements of a county strategic plan –likely the first ever such plan in the history of Brown County government. Because of the long lead time involved with government grants, self-funding the development of these plans may be an immediate and needed course of action.
To support the aim of “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations,” either the RDC or another objective third party should be asked to take the lead in facilitating the review and approval process. This will help ensure community support for the proposed MLPAC and its alignment with the existing or updated county comprehensive plan.
For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Let’s not plan to fail.