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Buffalo Trace lease in question


September 18, 2013 | 08:32 AM

The future of who will run Buffalo Trace Park hinges on decisions made soon by the Palmyra Town Council.

According to Palmyra's attorney, Rachael Armstrong, the Harrison County Parks Dept. is worried that the lease between the town, which owns Buffalo Trace Park, and the parks department, which leases the property, is void and that a new lease should be written.

Armstrong said the way the parks department receives grants is through the property it owns, but it doesn't own Buffalo Trace Park.

"The land is leased from the town of Palmyra; therefore, they are asking for grants on leased property," Armstrong said.

The parks department is asking Palmyra to either sell it the property or to extend the lease, but Palmyra doesn't know that it wants to sell to Buffalo Trace.

Palmyra Town Council member Alvin Brown said he's heard several opinions about what should be done. Two people, he said, believed that the town should sell the park, which takes in more money than any other park in the county, for $1 and get the park out of the town's hair. Others believe the town should take the park over and run it as a town park.

"We don't have the tax base to do that," Brown said of the second option. "Most of the people I've talked to say just leave it like it is."

Armstrong noted that there is a specific statute in Indiana Code regarding leases and parks, but the situation between the parks department and Palmyra falls outside of the scope of the statute because it's not the town that leases the property from the park, but the other way around.

Park boards, she said, can't lease property beyond 50 years, but that's not the situation in Palmyra.

"We want to lease to them as long as we can," Armstrong said.

The current lease is not quite halfway through a 99-year lease, which appears to be invalid because signatures on the lease weren't from qualified individuals.

"This is a total gray zone," Armstrong said. "To read the statute in isolation, the lease is void because you can't lease for more than 50 years. But, if you read the scope of the chapter, it seems to say statute would not apply to us. We are in a literal legal, gray zone. We have to enter into a legal lease, regardless."

Armstrong said she doubts if anyone would give the parks department a grant on a "maybe valid" lease.

"That's why it would have to be renegotiated. We have to discuss our options. We have to figure out what would be best for them and what would be best for Palmyra and all of the people in Palmyra," Armstrong said. "If 50 years isn't enough, then maybe Palmyra should consider selling the park to the parks department. I feel like when you are in the legal quagmire that we are, selling the park doesn't put us in a good place."

"All the money that (the parks department has) put into the park all these many years, the town might have to pay them back," town council president Virginia (Jenny) Kirkham said. "I don't think we'd be in any position to do that."

Armstrong said her advice would be to sit down with Harrison County Parks Director Rand Heazlitt to see if 50 years would be enough to get the grants he's looking for.

"Staying in a legal quagmire doesn't feel right to me; going deeper into a legal quagmire by selling the park to someone else seems like the absolute wrong idea to me. I think we need to clean up the mess we have. It's not a critical has-to-be-done immediately, but we do need to address it," Armstrong said.

In another matter, the board created an ADA Compliance Committee made up of Kirkham, Paul Eveslage, Tiffany Cardwell and Chris French. They've hired Midwestern Engineering to check doors, door knobs, sidewalks, building entrances, mirrors, urinals and other applicable items to make sure they are in ADA compliance.

The board also created a selection committee as it tries to acquire a stormwater/wastewater grant. The committee approved a score sheet to help decide on an engineer to do the work based on past performance, work in time limitations, familiarity with the type of organization or types of problems applicable to Palmyra's project and technical expertise. Through the score sheet, the town will select an engineer based on qualifications and not project cost.

In another matter, Cheri Banet submitted a public records request on behalf of Banet's mother, Gayle Corrigan. Corrigan is requesting a copy of a settlement agreement between Banet and the town of Palmyra. The town has seven days to fulfill the request or a complaint would be filed with public access commission and a lawsuit could possibly be filed, Banet said.

In the first hearing for the town's budget, the board also learned that the budget would increase by $25,000 due to the investment plan for the town's employees (a 3-percent match comes from the town's General Fund). The town would be getting an additional $800 from the state for local roads and streets and an additional $4,000 from the state from the motor vehicle highway fund. The town's trash budget would hold the 2012 line at $48,000.

The next public meeting of the town council is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 9 a.m.

Twitter: @_alanstewart

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