Rockport Common Council eyes arts initiative, prepares hearing on sewer rates


By Don Steen ~ Staff Writer •

The Rockport Common Council met in regular session Thursday, June 13. Members set the stage for some big initiatives in the near future, though some with more enthusiasm than others. The council was quick to approve funding for a local arts commission to help beautify Main Street green spaces and boost community engagement. They were rather less eager to introduce a sewer rate increase, a move made necessary by a late decision by the State Revolving Fund.

Good news first. The council heard a report from Tanna Small regarding a potential grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. This grant would help Rockport organize a local arts organization and finance a number of beautification initiatives.

For example, the green space by city hall that currently hosts a stage could see new lighting installed to better accommodate weekend events. The area already regularly hosts musical performances.

Mayor Cathy Kirkpatrick also said there are plans in place to honor the legacy of the Rio Theater, which formerly occupied that area. The theater collapsed and had to be removed a decade ago, but Kirkatrick hopes to see its memory incorporated into the art park springing up in its place. This could include adding a painting of the former theater to the park’s décor, along with other murals and features.

“There’s going to be a lot of exciting stuff happening over there,” she said. “We wanted to put what was on Main Street back on Main Street.”

As the grant may not be in hand until much later this year, Kirkpatrick suggested “borrowing” $5,000 from the city’s CEDIT Fund to get started on some of this work while warm weather reigns. That money could then be replenished when the expected grant funds arrive.

Another grant that might be on the horizon centers on the planning and design of a proposed bike trail that would connect the city to Grandview. Both communities are collaborating on this initiative, and if the grant application is successful Rockport and Grandview will split the local match requirement 75/25, as the bulk of the project would be in Rockport city limits.

Sewer Rate Hike

Shifting gears, the council also introduced a first reading of a planned sewer rate hike. The good news is that the hike will not be immediate, taking effect in 2026. It also requires a public hearing before the hike can be approved. The bad news is there really isn’t much room for maneuver.

Councilwoman Donna Lashley asked why the hike was necessary, as the city had already passed a recent hike based on a rate study. Board Attorney Brian Rudisill noted that the State Revolving Fund, which is helping finance the city’s wastewater system rehabilitation project, made a substantial hike a requirement before final sign off. To make matters worse, Rudisill noted the sudden about-face by SRF is putting a rural development grant on hold as well.

Essentially, the council is faced with the question of whether to cast aside millions of dollars in state and federal support to avoid a rate hike. The obvious counterpoint being that, without those funds, the city will eventually have to cover the full cost of its wastewater system overhaul on its own, sending rates higher still.

“We’re stuck in a hard spot,” said Rudisill. “Nobody likes this.”

The minimum monthly rate would rise to $57.36 for in-city customers and $70.20 for those outside the city. Rates would also rise for various amounts of monthly usage. Full details will be published in the paper ahead of a planned hearing at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 11 in the city hall.

Baseball fields getting use

On a more positive note, Kirkpatrick reported the city’s baseball fields at the park are seeing some use. A recreation league is planning a tournament for the weekend of June 28 to 30. During that time the pool will be offering participants discounts to encourage visiting players explore more of the city. The Lincoln Pioneer Village will also be open to welcome them.

“It should be a good weekend out there,” said Kirkpatrick.

Another use of the baseball fields is somewhat less welcome, however. Kirkpatrick noted that some residents have used the large, fenced-in area as a de facto dog park, with all that entails. This obviously leaves the fields in need of cleanup, especially ahead of an upcoming tournament.

The council is considering an ordinance to prevent such use, or at least require cleanup. Signage warning visitors off such activity is also planned.

In the longer term, Kirkpatrick suggested setting aside part of the city park as a dog park, possibly near the gazebo. The city park will also soon be home to four pickleball courts thanks to generous donations.

Read more on this story in the Spencer County Leader!