Matt Greller, Aim Chief Executive Officer

When I first stepped into the world of municipal government, things were a little different than they are today. The core services we expect from our city or town are likely the same but how those services are delivered looks decidedly more modern.

The deployment of automated meters, online bill pay, and trash trucks with robotic arms for picking up our trash cans that resemble mini-dumpsters only scratch the surface of advancements that make providing services more effective and efficient.

Automation, advancements, modernizations — whatever you want to call them — are usually instantly visible. There are many other kinds of changes that take place slowly and require leaps of faith that our leaders are implementing new strategies and programs using available data, trends, research, and of course, community expectations.

Today, more than one million Hoosiers work from home at least one day per week. As Indiana’s economy has slowly evolved to one that must nurture quality communities where employees want to live, governments at all levels have had to think bigger about what makes a quality place.

Parks need thoughtful programming and amenities that attract citizens of all ages and abilities. Sound utilities and a network of roads and sidewalks in good repair. Public safety departments that consistently deliver. Beautification efforts that display you are in a community that takes pride in itself. For the past decade, these placemaking efforts have gained credibility as a direct driver of economic development.

Beyond the basics

But is that enough? Not anymore. Communities are asking themselves what it says to current and potential residents when they look at things like Indiana’s drug and alcohol abuse rates, infant mortality, smoking statistics, suicides, life expectancy, and other wellness markers like mental health.

According to the 2021 US News and World Report “Best States” Rankings, Indiana ranks 40th when it comes to overall public health rankings. Looking at the specifics – Indiana is ranked 38th compared to other states in addressing infant mortality, 41st in early adult mortality, 40th in obesity and 41st in smoking.

These rankings translate to increased health care costs for individuals and businesses.

Traditionally, these have not been considered municipal issues. In this economy, however, where people are choosing where they want to live before they have a job, the “way we’ve always done things” goes out the window.

A great example of Aim and our city and town members stepping outside the norm is our advocacy on Senate Bill 4. This bill is a comprehensive public health measure that is attempting to codify many of the recommendations contained in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Public Health Commission final report. This one-year process, which included the participation of Mayor Bob Courtney of Madison, was one of the deepest dives ever into Indiana’s local public health system.

The commission found that Indiana’s per-capita spending on public health ranked it 45th in the nation. Aim has been and continues to be a vocal supporter of the bill and a method of funding the bill that is consistent, dependable and directs new funding to local health departments rather than private providers.

Public health legislation

Almost 2.5 million Hoosiers live in provider shortage areas. Local public health departments can and should partner with providers, but to ensure funding reaches the most rural parts of the state, it is important to leverage existing local health departments.

Among the any important components in Senate Bill 4 is the inclusion of municipal representation on local health department boards. This acknowledgement that municipal officials have an acute interest in the health of their communities is a welcome addition to this overdue conversation.

While some have voiced fears about a perceived loss of local control under the legislation, we see no evidence of such. Aim and other supporting associations have received continued assurance from State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box and co-chair of the Governor’s Public Health Commission former State Senator Luke Kenley that Senate Bill 4 is not a stalking horse.

Indeed, the delivery of municipal services looks different today. While the methods will evolve, it will always be the case that all services must be delivered with maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

As the legislature enters its final weeks, we look forward to continuing positive discussions on Senate Bill 4 and changes to the corresponding funding included in House Bill 1001. Completing the work of the Governor’s Public Health Commission will send a clear message to both current Hoosiers and prospective Hoosiers looking to give us a shot: We care about the health and well-being of our state, as well as the communities and people who call it home.

SOURCE: Indiana Capital Chronicle

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