Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman is looking toward the future of the community after the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of it.
Last Thursday, Wyman keynoted the annual State of the County address at Rozzi’s Catering and Ballroom. During the event, Wyman discussed the past, present, and future of Howard County to a crowd of business people, government officials, and administrators.
Wyman touted the county’s partnership with city government, and how, despite the pandemic, that partnership has remained strong. According to Wyman, there are around 43,000 parcels that taxes are collected from in Howard County, which is assessed at a $4.5 billion value in the community.
After the property value is assessed and the taxes are collected by the treasurer, the funds are then partly distributed to other facets of local government, including through the city.
Despite the pandemic, Wyman was optimistic in people’s ability to pay property taxes, saying “a tremendous amount of work has been going on between the treasurer, assessor, and the auditor’s office to keep all of that in line, to have on-time billing, on-time collections, and on-time distributions so that our other governmental units don’t have any disruptions.”
According to Howard County Treasurer Christie Branch, the on-time collection rate of property taxes currently is at 97 percent.
Wyman also remained positive about the county’s early response to the pandemic.
Due to having conversations early, before the virus actually had come to Howard County, Wyman said the county was successful in flattening the curve before COVID-19 became too big of a problem to handle.
“When you hear the term ‘flatten the curve,’ I can tell you, today, unequivocally, Howard County did flatten the curve from day one,” Wyman said.
According to Wyman, 74 percent of COVID-19 cases locally are “true community spread” cases, meaning they were not relegated to a specific facility, such as a nursing home. However, of the 66 deaths reported in the county, 80 percent of them were nursing home deaths.
Wyman also addressed unemployment, calling the shutdown and the ensuing job loss a “very trying time.”
“Howard County peaked out at unemployment at 33.5 percent in April,” Wyman said. “Literally, a couple months before that we were at 3.9 percent unemployment as a community. And within 60 to 90 days, we were at 33.5 percent unemployment. It’s really hard for us to fathom this type of scenario happening in our lives, but it unfolded. There it was, and I will tell you, our business, our corporations, Chrysler, GM, Delphi, the hospitals small businesses, to see how businesses rally during this time was nothing short of incredible.”
In particular, Wyman commended the deal between GM and Ventec, saying that he “hopes and prays that Ventec is a long-time company in our community.”
“I believe that we are showing them, and they’re showing us that this is an incredible partnership. And I hope that it lasts a long time,” the commissioner said.
While Wyman discussed fallout from the pandemic, he also looked to the future. Wyman discussed new projects that the county already has or will be starting.
One such project was the Community Organization Active in Disaster, or COAD. The COAD model was enacted in the county earlier this year. The COAD, according to Wyman, is made up of representatives from public, private, and nonprofit agencies that convene to help communities be better prepared at times of disaster. In the event of future disasters, the committee will be tasked with dispersing relief supplies, connecting people to resources, offering emotional and spiritual care, and managing donations.
A financial committee also was established and subsequently activated when the county shut down due to COVID-19, Wyman said, and the United Way of Howard and Tipton Counties “took the lead” in raising money and giving donations to those in need during the shutdown. Wyman said a table-top exercise demonstrating the COAD model in Howard County is scheduled in the fall.
Wyman also said that the property for the proposed industrial park had been identified, and negotiations for purchasing and working on the project were underway. He hopes to move forward on the project next year.