MERRILLVILLE | Community leaders pursuing efforts to enhance their municipalities don’t have to do it alone.
That was a message many area officials stressed Friday during a discussion hosted by the town of Merrillville and Building One America, an organization that works with increasingly diverse and older municipalities.
Officials from Merrillville, Hobart and North Township participated in the program that focused on sustainability in towns and cities.
Hobart City Councilman John Brezik said an issue in one municipality can affect the entire county.
“We have to start sharing, and we have to start caring,” Brezik said.
One problem many communities are encountering is the amount of foreclosed, vacant and abandoned homes in municipalities, officials said.
Merrillville Town Councilman Richard Hardaway said there could be leaders in other communities who don’t want to believe their municipalities have issues with empty homes or could face those problems in the future.
He said there is a need to be proactive to address that problem before it becomes serious, and collaborating on ideas will enhance those efforts.
North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said one way to combat foreclosures in municipalities is directing residents to Indiana’s Hardest Hit Fund, which could provide assistance to homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments.
Bob Fulton, assistant to Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor, said communities also should work together when they are planning future projects.
Municipalities could keep costs lower by doing that, he said. For example, if two entities decide to complete infrastructure work at the same time and in nearby areas, it could result in lower bids because contractors wouldn’t need to charge as much for mobilization for the projects.
Community officials on Friday also expressed frustrations about the difficulties in obtaining state and federal grants to improve their municipalities.
Paul Scully, executive director of Building One America, said funding is often directed to the most distressed communities, but that isn’t always the best strategy to revitalize an area.
Scully said focusing on “viable but challenged” areas could produce enhanced results.
In addition to Friday’s event, some local community leaders plan to participate in Building One America’s national summit in July in Washington, D.C. Officials from around the country will gather during the summit to share best practices that have helped their municipalities.