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Hope’s Town Council is taking small steps on the path to a town manager form of operational government. It’s the big strides that will be tricky.
The five members of the Town Council have been holding discussions about the potential of hiring a town manager in the hopes of providing more structure to the administration of town business while at the same time developing and overseeing an economic development program.
To date the meetings have focused on such things as preparing a job description and deciding upon managerial responsibilities. It’s in determining how such a position would be financed initially and in the years to come that the process becomes much more difficult.
The concept of turning over day-to-day managerial duties to a professional administrator in Hope has been around for several years, but recommendations in a 2012 comprehensive plan brought the idea to the talking stage with the current Town Council.
Such a plan has been adopted by a number of similar-sized communities around the state, and the Town Council has taken advantage of their experiences to study how such a system might be implemented in Bartholomew County’s second-largest town.
While some residents might be completely happy with the way things are going in Hope under the present system, advocates note that town management is essentially a volunteer form of government, often dependent on the availability of council members, many of whom have jobs outside Hope government.
The advantage is that a manager would be able to not only attend to routine administrative duties but take the lead in applying for and administering state and federal grants.
Such a system would also give the community an identifiable voice in the quest for economic investments from the private sector.
There are several issues that need to be addressed in this process, but the overriding one is how such a position could be funded.
Some council members have suggested that the town could utilize a share of its economic development income tax (EDIT) funds as seed money for the position. They argue that such an approach is in keeping with the true intent of the economic development program.
Currently Hope receives about $100,000 a year in EDIT revenues, but that source would likely be limited, especially as other community needs arise.
Eventually, the town manager would be expected to generate enough investment in the community to cover the salary and costs of the position.
In the end, the ultimate decision boils down to whether the town should take a chance on the potential for future growth or continue with a system of town management on a part-time basis.
When people or institutions do nothing different, it’s difficult to achieve different results.
Community leaders in Hope do want to bring in more business and industry to increase the tax base and provide more close-to-home jobs for residents. A town manager charged with aggressively increasing community development could help do exactly that.
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