Aaron Smith: State lawmakers should look to city halls for ideas

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint
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Nearly a century ago, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court popularized the idea that states can and should be the laboratories of the country. It’s a bold and uniquely American concept—that experimentation and innovation in Indiana could fuel growth and ideas in states across the country.

But what if we go a step further? What if cities like Noblesville could become the blueprint for Indiana? As state legislators identify the issues to tackle in the next legislative session, I’d advocate that they look to the successes in communities around Indiana and bring those blueprints to Indianapolis in January to implement statewide.

For example, as the seat of Hamilton County, Noblesville has a slew of aging buildings in our downtown core. Each year, we set aside $100,000 to fund commercial façade grants. It’s a local program that matches private dollars to rehabilitate buildings in our downtown district. We also set aside $500,000 every year for enhancements downtown—funded directly by the food and beverage tax, ensuring that out-of-town visitors also contribute to future projects in our community.

As we’ve invested in our downtown, we’ve reduced street-front vacancies to zero and increased the number of residents living around the square, and we have an exponentially higher number of visitors heading to Noblesville. It’s a self-sustaining cycle.

I’m encouraged by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s READI program and concepts like gubernatorial candidate Eric Doden’s Main Street Initiative that foster competition and tackle these problems proactively by leveraging private-sector dollars.

But cities like Noblesville aren’t battling only hard costs. With an increasing number of Hoosiers citing mental health as a challenge they are facing, we’re finding ways to reduce soft costs, too.

As with any municipality, the cost to adequately fund public safety is the most significant slice of our expenses—50.1% to be exact. That’s one of the reasons we started NobleAct in 2020. This proactive paramedicine program helps us identify residents prone to slips, trips and falls; address mental health problems before they arise; and reduce the number of calls to our fire department. It’s already made a difference—we’re proactively reaching those who need a bit more help while saving taxpayer dollars with a net reduction in 911 calls.

In the upcoming session, Mayor Chris Jensen and state Sen. Scott Baldwin will lead an initiative to take the successes of NobleAct statewide. Dubbed Indiana Community Cares, the program will equip cities and towns with a grant to invest in proactive and sustainable community paramedicine initiatives designed to assist and rehabilitate at-risk Hoosiers while reducing public-safety expenses. It’s a win-win for communities around Indiana.

These are just a few of the many proactive and strategic steps we’re taking in Noblesville. From Mount Vernon to Michigan City and Morocco to Monroeville, cities and towns are creating unique solutions to challenges we could all learn and benefit from. Let’s empower our communities to be the laboratories for the state and create positive change for all Hoosiers.•

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Smith is president of the Noblesville City Council.

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