The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs put its Stellar Communties program on hold in early 2020 — looking instead to more directly address the immediate needs of Indiana communities as a result of COVID-19.
 
Now, says Mayor Joe Yochum, OCRA has collaborated with a number of state partners to reimagine Stellar in a way that better addresses the current environment.
 
The new Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program will bring together some of the ideas of the Stellar initiative but will bear in mind the challenges now faced across the state because of the ongoing pandemic.
 
“If selected,” said Yochum, “we could get up to a million dollars to use in conjunction with American Rescue Plan Act money.”
 
However, before the city could move forward with the application, Yochum told city council members Monday that a resolution approving $20,000 for a community coordinator position was required by OCRA.
 
If Vincennes attains HELP-designated status, a community coordinator to facilitate the program would be necessary.
 
“The state would give us $20,000 in matching funds for that position, and we have to chip in at least $20,000,” Yochum said of the base salary for a coordinator.
 
Should Vincennes be selected to move forward as a HELP community, the coordinator will, in part, be responsible for garnering more community engagement and input in the process.
 
“This person would help determine what the community’s interests are as to what this program has to offer,” Yochum said.
 
"It could be anything from housing and parks and trails, to historic preservation, or small business revolving loans,” Yochum said.
 
Essentially, any projects that align with the guidelines of ARPA could be funded, including anything considered a response to the negative impacts of COVID-19, such as providing better pay to essential workers or investment in local broadband, water or sewer infrastructure.
 
OCRA says HELP-designated communities will be implementing local projects that address some of those concerns by focusing on four main pathways: online connectivity, community wellness, quality of place and local economies.
 
With the potential for a million dollars in matching funds, Yochum says it’s worth the city’s time and effort to apply.
 
“Anytime we can apply to match dollars, we’ve got to give it our best shot, and this is up to a million, so it’s more work but it’s good work,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good shot at it.”
 
Members of city council, too, agreed the program is worth the effort, voting unanimously in favor of a resolution approving the $20,000 for a community coordinator, should Vincennes be selected by OCRA.

But, Yochum acknowledges, the HELP program is competitive, with only a total of four communities or designated regions being selected in the first round — 12 communities in total will be assisted after the completion of the HELP program.

The city will submit its application this week before the Oct. 1 deadline, but Yochum says it’s currently unclear when OCRA officials will announce which communities have been selected.
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