GREENCASTLE -- The hard work of citizens and officials to make a "greener" Greencastle have been noticed outside the city.
The National League of Cities (NLC) announced Monday that Greencastle is one of 45 finalists for its 2010 Awards for Municipal Excellence. The city was selected for its work to develop and implement the initiatives of the Greencastle Sustainability Commission.
Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray credited the city's sustainability efforts and the honor from the NLC to citizens taking control in challenging times.
"In these times when budgets are being crunched and cut, how can communities say, 'We're going to make our lives better'? We can't expect the state and federal economy to turn around as quickly as we might like and as a result trickle down to us," Murray said.
Sustainability commission chairman Steve Setchell concurred.
"We've been facing some unprecedented challenges economically, and the people have really stepped up to respond in remarkable ways," he said.
The selection as a finalist puts Greencastle in some rarified company. While there are 45 finalists, the city is one of 14 in the cities under 50,000 residents division.
This is all the more impressive in that Greencastle, with a population just below 10,000, is potentially competing against cities five times its size.
South Bend, in the 50,001 to 150,000 category, is the only other finalist from Indiana.
While municipal excellence entails many factors, it is the sustainability efforts that set Greencastle apart from many other applicants.
The Greencastle Sustainability Committee formed in late 2008 when more than 100 citizens met to develop environmental solutions to strengthen the economy, culture and quality of life of Greencastle.
The city council passed an ordinance in May 2009 establishing the Commission on Sustainability as part of local government. Since its formation, the commission has been active in a number of areas:
* Greencastle became the first city in Indiana to put decorative LED street lights in its downtown.
* Local hunters, farmers and meat processors donated more than 3,000 pounds of ground venison to support the Local Food for Neighbors in Need initiative.
* The city is currently building a new pathway and connector trails that will allow a walking school bus to debut in the coming months.
* DePauw University's "move out" days at the end of the academic year recycles gently used furniture and goods to the community, rather than adding to the landfill.
* The city partnered with Duke Energy to offer an energy conservation challenge to Greencastle Community Schools. The winning school -- Deer Meadow Primary -- decreased its energy use by 17.7 percent in the coldest winter months of 2010.
* The Greater Greencastle Chamber of Commerce has initiated a "Buy Local" campaign to support local business and save energy.
* The farmers' market has expanded, and some vendors have experienced a 300 percent increase in revenues.
"It's a nice honor for our community, and it really just reflects on the city government's efforts, particularly to reach out to invest in the creative potential of citizens across the community," Setchell said.
In announcing Greencastle as a finalist, NLC Executive Director Donald J. Borut praised the city.
"We are pleased that Greencastle is a finalist for our Awards for Municipal Excellence," Borut said. "This shows that even at a time when so many cities are struggling financially, cities and towns continue to develop the most creative and innovative solutions."
Greencastle and other finalists will move into the last round of consideration for the awards to determine the winners. While the cities will be notified of the results next month, the winners of the 2010 Awards for Municipal Excellence will be announced during the NLC's Congress of Cities and Exposition in Denver Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.
Murray said she wasn't sure what to expect while completing the application process, but thought it would be a good way to recognize some hard working people.
"I thought it was really exciting and really important that we do something like this. I sent the application in because of the work that we had done with community planning," Murray said. "The success we've found within that program has been pretty special, so I said, 'Why not send it in?'
"We tried, and it got in and then it got noted."
She also reiterated how this honor reflects on individuals and their ability to make a difference.
"I think at the end of the day, people care about being able to make a difference, and they can do this on the local environment. They can't always do this in the larger scope," Murray said.