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Commissioners act on packing plant mess, school debt

Clearing out the old dilapidated buildings at the abandoned Wenning packing plant in Central Barren is expected to get underway soon, and checks are in the mail to pay down the three public school system’s debts by $3 million.
The Harrison County Board of Commissioners took those actions and more during its session Monday night that lasted more than four hours.
Early in the meeting, bids were opened for the long-awaited clean-up at the old meat packing plant. The low bid, $48,500, was submitted by Rosenbarger Excavating of Corydon. The only other bid, from Dan Christiani Excavating Inc., was $62,600.
The work will include demolishing the old buildings and removing the debris as well as an old cistern that has caved in, said Commissioner James Goldman.
A grant has been applied for to remove buried gasoline tanks on the property.
The commissioners have had the last say ‘ at least for now ‘ in the battle with the council over how much riverboat revenue should be used to help pay school debt, which in turn lowers property taxes because less tax is needed to pay for capital projects in the public school systems. Interlocal agreements were adopted Monday night with the three school systems, allowing the schools to receive the money.
The council appropriated $3.5 million, but the commissioners approved only $3 million and OK’d the checks for that amount and the interlocal agreements.
At issue, the commissioners believe, is whether it’s more important to use the money for much-needed projects and services or to use it to reduce taxes, which may not sit well with legislators around the state who keep a keen eye on the use of such revenue.
Those legislators could decide to use the money elsewhere, some fear. Others think they will do that anyway if they have the chance.
For now, said council chair Gary Davis, ‘I think we’ve agreed to disagree.
‘They’ve disbursed $3 million, and it remains to be seen how much this damages the spirit of cooperation we have been trying to engender. Cooperation works both ways,’ Davis said. ‘For this go-around, it’s a done deal. We’re not going to appropriate the $500,000 again.’
Davis said whether the commissioners have the legal right to reduce an appropriation of the council is the question, and apparently council attorney Michael Summers says no while county attorney Christopher Byrd says yes.
Davis said the council does not intend to sue the commissioners to resolve the issue.
By the same token, he said, ‘The council is not going to relinquish its authority to appropriate riverboat funds without the commissioners asking first.’ The council has done so several times in the past.
In another matter at Monday night’s meeting, the commissioners gave the Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Dept. approval to seek $230,000 in riverboat human service funds to purchase a new pumper truck.
The purchase would meet one of the needs identified in a recent emergency services report.
Also, the YMCA got final approval for county road names at the complex. The entryway off S.R. 337 to the main entrance to the Y will be named Foundation Way; the road leading 90 degrees to the right will be called Jenkins Court. In return, the soccer fields at Gov. Frank O’Bannon Park will be named Keller Fields, to honor the Keller Manufacturing Co. and the Keller family, forever, if possible, the commissioners said.
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper said, ‘I think it’s important for all of us that the Keller family has contributed by and large for years to this community.’
The company’s recent decision to sell its property to the Y rather than lease it to the group for $1 a year for 35 years was made due to critical business problems, Heitkemper said. ‘Fortunately, they will be with us for a long, long time,’ he said, predicting a complete turn-around.
‘The Keller family goes back into the 1800s and has supplied a lot of meals for the families here,’ said commission chair J.R. Eckart. ‘I would like to see the soccer fields named Keller Fields in perpetuity.’
However, county attorney Byrd said it would be difficult to uphold such a requirement in the future for private property.
YMCA director Catherine Turcotte said the Y board hoped to ensure the name remains unchanged as well, and:
‘The Y wants to do a historic display at the Keller Fields,’ she said, adding that any input the commissioners or other county officials could provide would be appreciated.