HAMLET – At its regular board meeting on Dec. 9, the Oregon-Davis School Corp. hosted state Rep. Jim Pressel and Sen. Mike Bohacek, giving them a chance to speak to the board.
During their conversation, Pressel and Bohacek spoke about the Stellar Designation Grant. Although the county did not win it this year, Pressel believes that Starke’s chances of winning next year are very high.
“Starke is still going to get $300,000 going forward,” said Pressel. “They were not just one of the finalists, they were second. Other than the very first award, nobody has won that the very first year.”
Pressel expressed hope that the county would try again in 2020, a sentiment that was backed by Bohacek: “They did a really nice job. Everyone that I talked to that was a part of the evaluation was very impressed. I was very impressed.”
Pressel went on to explain what the judges would be looking for in Starke County’s next Stellar application.
“Part of what they’re going to be looking for is how well does that stay together during this time when you didn’t get the grant and when they go into the next round of grants. So if it all falls apart, you probably won’t get it next year either. If you do good things with that $300,000, I think you have a good shot.”
One aspect of Starke’s 2019 application that Pressel and Bohacek specifically addressed was that of housing.
Reportedly, housing is a wide-spread issue across the Stellar applications the Office of Rural and Community Affairs received over the last couple of years. This sent a message that has been heard loud and clear.
To fix the issue, the legislature passed a residential housing Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
“It’s typically done on commercial properties. So, this is to do just exactly what you’re trying to do. It incentivizes an area. It could be a county, a segment in a county; it could be a town -- to create a redevelopment commission, if you don’t have one, and TIF a particular area that the revenues from that can be used for housing infrastructure,” said Pressel.
He went on to explain that this will help with the biggest expenses of housing development, land acquisition and infrastructure, something that the residential housing TIF takes care of.
“This is not just a problem in Starke County. It’s in LaPorte County, it’s in Marshall County -- it’s everywhere,” said Pressel. “You got old housing and don’t have enough housing starts to feed the demand of people wanting to buy housing. So if you eliminate the cost of some of that infrastructure, it makes it more attractive to someone to come to Hamlet and put up housing.”
The legislators spoke about several other subjects, including high stakes testing, the area’s transient population, issues regarding the time zone, and several other subjects.
Pressel and Bohacek spoke very openly and welcomed questions and comments from the school board and visitors.