Source: The Corydon Democrat

Morvin's Landing proposal loses steam
Vote to take place Oct. 15

by Ross Schulz

September 24, 2013

The Harrison County Council Monday evening delayed a vote on the $100,000 additional to purchase land for the Morvin’s Landing property just east of Mauckport to go along with the Bicentennial Nature Trust and Harrison County Community Foundation funding.

Council Chair Gary Davis said Councilman Gordon Pendleton, who’s away on vacation, asked that the issue be tabled until the next regular meeting so Pendleton can partake in the vote and discussion.

Davis also issued a warning to Harrison County Parks director Rand Heazlitt that he needs to see a better plan for what the land will be used for and how it will be self-sustaining.

“I don’t think it’ll pass unless there’s a more definitive plan of what you’re going to do and the cost to maintain it on an annual basis.” Davis said. “I want to see that info before I vote on it.”

The preliminary plan is to create an endowment with the Harrison County Community Foundation that would match any donation to the endowment dollar for dollar up to $50,000 per year.

Heazlitt said the parks board meets tonight (Wednesday) and will discuss the plan and be ready to present it at the council’s next meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 15 (changed from Monday, Oct. 14, because of Columbus Day).

“I don’t want the (parks) subsidy to increase,” Davis said. “If it’s going to, I won’t support it.”

Davis emphasized that the proposed plan is not, in fact, for a park, but more for a preserve.

“It’s unfortunate the parks department even got involved,” he said. “It’s not a park.”

The county’s bicentennial committee, set in place in preparation for the 2016 Indiana bicentennial, wanted to apply for the nature trust grant but couldn’t because it is not a 501(c)(3) organization. So, the parks department took the lead and moved forward with the proposal.

Davis, who is on the bicentennial committee, said they didn’t get involved with the nature trust to create another park.

Councilmember Richard Gerdon said he’s had more calls about this issue, because the plan is to pay more for the land than it appraised for, than any other issue.

Heazlitt said the asking price is $892 per acre more than it’s appraisal.

“She’s been offered more by others,” Davis said, speaking of the owner of the property, Wilma Richards.

Before the discussion, Councilman Ralph Sherman made the motion to vote on the matter immediately. Councilman Jim Heitkemper seconded and Gerdon joined in voting in favor, but Davis, Councilman Phil Smith and Councilwoman Sherry Brown voted against.

A motion was then made to table the matter, and Heitkemper switched his vote, allowing it to pass 4-2.

The Indiana Bicentennial Nature Trust is a program created to land for conservation and recreation to leave as a perpetual gift to all Hoosiers as part of the bicentennial celebration in 2016. A trust representative expressed that the Morvin’s Landing site was one of the best applications because of its history, river frontage and its plant life.

In other business Monday night, a number of Spencer Township residents visited the council to seek help regarding the impending shutdown of the LifeSpan Resources Senior Citizens Lunch Program that has been at the Frenchtown Community Center for the past six years.

Davis informed the residents that, even though the council can make a non-binding budget recommendation for all townships, it does not have any authority to change the township budget. Davis advised the residents to speak with the Dept. of Local Government Finance about the matter.

The residents objected to the lack of transparency with which the budget was presented at a public hearing in September, Sandy Dubois reported to the council in a letter. The hearing took place at the home office of township trustee Donald Satterfield.

Dubois said they could not find answers about the senior meals program in the budget for 2014.

“The senior citizens lunch program is vital to the quality of life of our senior citizens of Spencer Township who are themselves income and property taxpayers,” Dubois said. “Research overwhelmingly states that the engagement in a social network prolongs life and increases quality of life ... ”

The group of residents also said they objected to the proposed salaries for the trustee and clerk.

“These amounts are excessive as compared to the other 11 townships,” Dubois said.

The proposed trustee salary for Spencer Township is $18,440. The average of the other 11 trustees is $8,765. The proposed clerk salary for Spencer Township is $8,550. The average of the other 11 is $2,011. Spencer Township also has the highest proposed employee benefits at $6,500 and supplies at $5,000.

“We have no authority, as much as we’d like to help you,” Davis said.

The council also will need Pendleton’s vote on another matter, the tracking devices on highway department vehicles. The vote to approve the funding for a pilot program for $32,000-plus did not pass (3-3 vote). Davis, Smith and Brown voted for, while Gerdon, Sherman and Heitkemper voted against.

The system, implemented by GIS company 39 Degrees North, will help find the most efficient way to operate the department and will also be used for safety reasons if a vehicle breaks down or is involved in a crash.