KENTLAND — A heated discussion on economic development and taking advantage of the “Opportunity Zone” designation, along with a multi-million dollar proposal for water quality improvements were the highlights of the Kentland Town Council meeting July 10.

Kentland businessman John Cassidy asked the town council what the status was with taking advantage of the Opportunity Zone.

“Where are we on maximizing this designation for the Town of Kentland,” asked Cassidy. “I feel an economic development commission should be appointed for this or at least a point person.”

Kentland Town Attorney Pat Ryan said he doesn’t believe an economic development commission would work out for Kentland.

“To get everything set up to the level of detail needed would be tough,” said Ryan. “That commission would have to follow all of the state guidelines which includes public notices and recording of minutes and that hasn’t worked out in the past. My suggestion would be to make an informal group. Pick five to six people who want to be involved and one person to lead it. Then just have that group report back to the council with recommendations. Newton County already has an economic development commission that can do the heavy lifting on this.”

Cassidy agreed an informal club or group would work, but he added that Kentland should make this priority.

“The Opportunity Zone is just here around Kentland, it is not the rest of the county,” said Cassidy. “Kentland needs its own expert. I feel this is an afterthought for the county’s economic development.”

“This is driving me nuts,” said Ryan. “Does anyone here know how we got in the Opportunity Zone? I do, I know all about it because I applied for it for the town. I am concerned about misconceptions being relayed here. You are going to be able to hire someone to do this for you. The Opportunity Zone goes all the way up from US 24 to ADE, it’s just not Kentland. It’s just not about experts either. It is all about marketing, and yes the town does need a pint person so that they can coordinate with Newton County Economic Development Director Tim Myers.”

Cassidy agreed market of the Opportunity Zone is key but he has yet to see it around town or from the county.

“Why not have banners out by the Welcome to Kentland signs with a telephone number to call for more information,” asked Cassidy. “There is nothing on the town’s website and nothing on the county’s website. People who want to invest here could be out there, and they just don’t know about it. I am just here to spark some thoughts.”

Vince Sommers of Common Wealth Engineering came before the board looking for feedback on a proposal of his for a complete study of the town’s water utility including improving water quality, adding water treatment and the upsizing of water lines throughout town. The engineering study would be in the cost range of $33,000 to $35,000.

“I want to see if you want to move forward and also I wanted to bring the new council members up to date on the history of how we got here,” said Sommers.

Sommers informed the council that the town would be looking at around $3.1 million for a water treatment plant and other improvements including installing mixers to the water tower and adding a 50,000-gallon booster station.

“Initially we did our first together in October of 2016 because of water quality complaints and the loss of a major water customer,” said Sommers. “These are all just options and nothing has been finalized, I am just looking for direction from the council.”

The town council tabled the engineering study proposal so that they could have more time to look it over.

In other news, Town Manager T.J. Firkins informed the council that the town pool can get by being open up until Labor Day this year but would need a modified schedule once school starts. The council gave him the blessing to go ahead with those plans.

The council approved the purchase of a 2018 John Deere 4044R tractor with a 12-foot mower attachment for $45,565. The tractor will replace two older tractors the town uses and also cut back on man-hours needed for mowing.

“We won’t need as much part-time help next year with this tractor,” said Firkins.