Johnstown Independent

Johnstown looks to leverage partnership with MORPC

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The village of Johnstown is poised to join a central Ohio consortium in hopes of helping village officials secure grants.

Johnstown Village Council on April 15 voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing Village Manager Jim Lenner to complete documents to allow Johnstown to join the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

According to its website, MORPC is "a voluntary association of central Ohio governments and regional organizations" that "envisions and embraces innovative directions" in various areas, such as transportation, energy or land use.

MORPC, which was founded in 1943 as the Franklin County Planning Commission before expanding, has members from Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield, Licking, Madison, Morrow, Pickaway, Ross and Union counties, with interest in other areas.

The catalyst for Johnstown joining MORPC was a visit by MORPC members to the village, Lenner said.

"It was actually initiated by MORPC," Lenner said. "They came out and visited the village and talked with us, and we started getting information about what MORPC does."

MORPC membership coordinator Eileen Leuby said the regional commission is expanding farther outside the Columbus region and is looking to add smaller communities like Johnstown. Several other smaller municipalities, such as Mifflin, Prairie and Perry townships in Franklin County, recently joined, and Leuby said adding new members is a benefit to both parties.

"It's nice to extend our reach, in terms of our services," Leuby said. "(It offers) the ability for them to come in and be part of conversations, and we have a number of working committees that they can choose to serve on if it's pertinent to their community. We have the ability to influence approximately $33 million of transportation moneys since we are also the metropolitan planning organization."

Lenner, who has a master's degree in public affairs and worked with the Licking County Planning Commission, said he was familiar with MORPC and what it could provide but that he hasn't had an opportunity to see what a partnership could mean for the village.

"As we grow as a community, it's going to be important to have as many resources in our toolbox as possible, and that's a huge one," he said. 'Getting all the information in there is key to help us out."

The MORPC partnership would allow the village, which could become a city after the 2020 Census, a larger pool of funding from which to draw, Lenner said.

"As we continue to grow, the resources we have will expand," he said. "There are grant programs; there's a lot of data they collect. This year, there's a survey of other municipalities of policy and what they do to tackle situations. So it's more a huge regional collaborative of all municipalities and townships. And by joining, we get use of all that information and resources plus a vote on their board."

Leuby said the benefits MORPC provides are simpler than others and that it puts no pressure or requirement to do anything with the information to which Johnstown would have access.

"We don't tell communities how to go about doing things; we just offer services," Leuby said. "It's totally voluntary. This will allow Johnstown to have representation on our board, attend monthly meetings and keep abreast of all the opportunities and changes in government management and be knowledgeable about all the tools that are available to help plan a community."

The MORPC board is the last hurdle to cross, Lenner said, but it should be a straightforward process when the board meets May 8 to approve Johnstown's entry.

Membership costs are based on estimated population, Lenner said, and it would cost the village about $1,500 per year. The pro-rated cost for the remainder of 2014 would be $1,154, he said.

"If we got even one grant or one policy recommendation from them," he said, "it more than pays for itself."

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