(L to R) County attorney Ed Ormsby and Commissioners Cary Groninger and Bob Conley listen to a presentation about FORWARD Kosciusko Tuesday. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
(L to R) County attorney Ed Ormsby and Commissioners Cary Groninger and Bob Conley listen to a presentation about FORWARD Kosciusko Tuesday. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
County officials aren’t just waiting to see what the future holds for Kosciusko, they’ve been participating in proactive steps to help steer the area’s growth in a positive direction.

Tuesday morning, the Kosciusko County Commissioners heard from two women about moving Kosciusko County forward.

Katie Clark, with Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group out of Indianapolis, updated the Commissioners on FORWARD Kosciusko County, on which she served as project manager.

FORWARD Kosciusko County will serve as the county’s comprehensive plan and will include detailed information and recommendations on local and countywide land use, government and fiscal capacity, public utilities, facilities and services, placemaking, housing, transportation, agriculture, natural resources, parks and recreation, trails and downtown revitalization, according to the website at www.forwardkosciusko.com.

“We’re nearing the end of a yearlong process. We started just over a year ago, learning as much as we can, exploring different ideas,” she said, noting that they’re in the process where everything starts to come together. “We’re at the point where we’re unveiling and pushing out some draft recommendations for the public to review and provide input on. We’ll be looking to wrap everything up this spring.”

She said the team has had a chance to talk to hundreds of different people that have really formed how they thought about the comprehensive plan and materials that were developed.

While the plan has things in it that the state says needs to be included, Clark said, “Through this process, a whole number of very important ideas came forward, and those are around health and wellness, and access to child care, fresh foods, connectivity and parks and recreation. And then kind of the actions and the resources available to not only the county but also the local communities as well.”

She said they paired all that together and that will become the comprehensive plan that they’re working through right now.

“In addition to those pieces, those topics that we want to cover, we also thought very strategically about how you can use the plan itself. We’ve really come to thinking about it in three different ways,” she said. Those ways are as a guide, action and partnerships.

The county will get a new comprehensive plan, and each incorporated area in the county will get their own unique comprehensive plan as well.

The plans are tailored toward the specific needs of the people and the leadership within those various areas.

“It’s going to be a great set of tools and resources for those communities ... to figure out their own to-do list,” Clark said.

Syracuse, Warsaw and Winona Lake’s documents will look slightly different as they all have more recent comprehensive plans.

“So as we start to kind of think about what the plan is looking like, we really have four kind of categories that starts with the vision and goals, those are all the big ideas. And then we lay on different pieces to provide more detailed actions throughout the documents,” Clark said.

Early on in the process, everybody saw that the direction the county needs to go in is everyone working together. “It needs to be more about a collaborative set of actions and collaborative thought, not just individual strengths,” Clark said.

“We really kind of rallied around that idea and started to layer on the different pieces and parts of the plan,” she said.

To support that vision, goals were broken down into five different categories to cover everything from the needs of the people to ways to improve the county’s systems to ways to advocate for local destinations, she explained.

After discussing the different categories for goals, Clark talked about the next steps. Last week, there was a series of public presentations to roll out the comprehensive plan information. There was an introduction to the Kosciusko County Area Plan Commission, which will be the recommending body to the Commissioners. She said the entire month of February is a public review of the materials.

She encouraged public review and comments, with the information available online at www.forwardkosciusko.com. There is a survey at the end for people to provide feedback and comments.

“I can’t stress enough that we need public comments to make sure that the plan is the best that it can be,” Clark said.

As for a timeline on the next steps, which will be based on the feedback submitted, she said, “Ideally, we’re trying to come back in March to provide kind of a more detailed explanation of those projects and those strategies, so everybody is aware of what that content is before we move forward with adoption.”

In April, the final steps of the adoption process will tentatively take place. After the Commissioners adopt the plan, “we will work with each local community to make sure they adopt the plan as well. To make sure everybody is on the same page and ready to move forward with implementation,” she said.

Commissioner Cary Groninger said he’s been a part of several of the meetings. “I know it’s been a lot of work trying to gather all this information, just the size of the county. I think a really unique thing about this plan is that each one of these small communities is going to end up with their own comprehensive plan, which is something I think we learned back in the Hometown Chats that they really were looking for and were hoping we’d use this as our road map as we dive into our HELP program to have some projects almost cued up or available for us to start through.”

The second woman to go before the Commissioners Tuesday was Amy Roe, the county’s new community coordinator.

Groninger, in introducing her to the other commissioners as he had to the County Council on Thursday, said in December the county was awarded a Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program (HELP) grant through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. He said they went through the interview process and were able to hire Roe as the community coordinator.

Roe said she was originally from Fulton County, but has a long history with Kosciusko County, having gone to Grace College and started careers here, one of which was helping former Grace Village CEO Jeff Carroll start a social services department. Her college degrees are in psychology and sociology. She also helped Cerulean restaurant get started.

From there, she moved on to South Carolina and learned about community and economic development. She then returned home to Fulton County and became the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce’s executive director.

“I was moving to my next adventure when I was approached about this position, so I am very excited to be here,” Roe said.

She said she was in Pierceton Monday and Syracuse the other day.

“I feel like each of the communities is primed for growth. It’s a really neat thing. I’ve spent the last two weeks, now going on three, getting a new doctorate in Kosciusko County with all the papers that I’ve read, but that’s essential because of understanding about Hometown Chats, FORWARD Kosciusko County, housing strategy and all the things that you’ve done prior to me,” Roe said. “So I feel like taking all of those specific and unique tools and working with the communities, we’ll be able to get them the legacy that really they deserve and help build Kosciusko County.”

Groninger said when the county received the grant award, they looked at it like being a gamechanger for the county’s rural communities. “We’re really hoping to give them the tools that they need to be all that they can be and have a unique quality of life,” he said.