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Council tackles big ticket items

During a very busy, four-hour regular session Monday night, the Harrison County Council appointed a task force to look into the hospital’s plan to relocate, denied ‘ for now ‘ funds to complete the renovation of the old vacant jail, approved funds to build an animal control facility, and guaranteed matching money should the Indian Creek Trail project be successful in obtaining a big federal grant.
But that’s not all the council did.
Riverboat revenue-sharing plans with neighboring counties were approved for another year at the same 15 percent set before Caesars’ gambling boat arrived in November 1998, but Georgetown’s one percent was given to Floyd County, upping Georgetown’s home county from one to two percent.
Councilman Alvin Brown noted that none of the towns in Crawford or Washington counties were given any part of those counties’ revenue; that decision was left to the home county.
His motion, seconded by councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads, passed 6-0, but not before Councilman Carl Duley had his say.
Duley chaired the council committee that studied riverboat revenue-sharing and recommended no changes in distribution. Revenue-sharing with Harrison County’s 10 incorporated towns is still under discussion, he said.
Arguing in Georgetown’s favor, Duley said the town has a new board which no doubt has plans to use the money, which, since 1999, has totaled more than $1 million. Most of the revenue so far has been stashed by the old board in hopes of replacing the town hall. Duley said that’s not likely the case now. ‘If not one percent, then half a percent,’ he said, a compromise to his earlier motion of one percent. ‘Georgetown is our neighbor,’ he said.
‘So is Greenville,’ Brown countered.
The compromise vote failed 2 to 4, with Kenneth Saulman joining Duley’s pro side and Brown, Rhoads, Ralph Sherman and Carl (Buck) Mathes casting nay votes.
‘I don’t know why everybody is so against Georgetown anyway,’ Duley said to fellow council members. ‘Nobody gave a good reason for taking the money away.’
‘Cause Greenville don’t get any,’ Brown said.
When the vote came up to continue giving New Albany three percent to offset expenses created by the heavy Interstate 64 traffic through town to the gambling boat and non-gambling amenities at Bridgeport, Brown said, ‘I will vote for this, but I think the money should go to Floyd County.’
Council panel may recommend consultant to study hospital plans
With the debate over Harrison County Hospital’s plans for a new facility continuing some two years, Council chair Gary Davis Monday night appointed a committee to develop a request for proposals to hire an outside expert to make recommendations on which the council could base its decision.
‘We’re just marking time now, and we need to move forward and make a decision,’ Davis said.
He referred to a December editorial in this newspaper written by Randy West that suggested the appointment of a ‘blue-ribbon, lean-and-mean task force’ to study the facts, review options, reach consensus and make a recommendation to county officials ‘that everyone can live with.’
Davis said the hospital’s full-page advertisement in this newspaper last week urging constituents to relay support for the building project by calling council members directly (whose names and numbers were provided) shows the hospital is ‘not really interested in having this task force. They will pressure the council instead,’ Davis said.
‘If that’s the attitude, we need to move forward with trying to resolve the issues the council has on our own.’
Those are: ‘Should we stay or move? Where should we build? What should we build? What should we use to pay for it?’ Davis said.
The council, Davis said, is concerned that the hospital financing would be backed with tax dollars that might fall back on the taxpayers if the revenue stream from Caesars dropped.
Currently, the hospital plans to build a $36 million medical campus near Interstate 64. The plan calls for help from the council with financing, which, according to estimates, would amount to about six percent of riverboat revenue over a 10-year period. Hospital earnings would pay for the rest.
Davis named himself and council colleagues Carl Duley and Ralph Sherman to the panel, plus Andrew Best of Corydon as a non-voting member.
Yesterday, HCH executive director Steve Taylor said the hospital board has been in the process of naming its own blue ribbon task force made up of people from ‘different parts of the county and different walks of life.’
He said Davis was invited to participate, but if he doesn’t want to, then another council member will be invited to take his place. ‘We’re inviting 25 to 26 people representing the community, the hospital board, the council, county commissioners and medical staff,’ Taylor said.
Ed Vaughn of Louisville, retired president of Baptist Health Systems of Kentucky, has agreed to serve as facilitator, Taylor said.
‘We’re going to move forward.’
The group will have its first meeting next week, he said.
Jail renovation gets temporary set back
A request for $500,000 in riverboat money to complete the old jail renovation in downtown Corydon drew a tie vote among the six council members Monday night, leaving the seventh member, council chair Gary Davis, with the final say.
‘I am going to vote no,’ Davis said.
‘I want to see a plan for spending the $500,000. I’m not opposed to renovating the old jail, but I want to know what’s going to be in it.’
A floor plan from RQAW, project architects, would suffice, he said.
‘That’s what RQAW is working on now,’ said J.R. Eckart, who chairs the Board of Harrison County Commissioners.
He told Davis that the plans have changed several times, depending on other developments. For instance, when Bank One decided not to sell its building next to the jail to the county, the plan to relocate all the offices in the county annex into the bank building fell through.
The plan is to use the old two-story jail building for storage, data processing and four county offices ‘ weights and measures, the emergency management agency, veterans services, and county maintenance, Eckart said.
So far, the county has spent $67,240 for such things as asbestos and lead paint removal, to prepare the building for the rest of the work. Because a construction contract hadn’t been let before the end of the year for the balance of the work, the appropriation expired, so the commissioners were back before the council to ask again.
Davis reiterated that he is not opposed to spending the money to renovate the jail, but he’s not going to do it sight unseen. ‘If I did, it would be buying a pig in a poke,’ he said. ‘That’s what this is without a plan.
‘Once we get that, I will be glad to reconsider.’
Council approves $300,000 for animal control facility
A motion to approve $400,000 for an animal control facility failed 2-4 to pass the Harrison County Council Monday night, but $300,000 sailed through, amidst little-to-no debate.
‘Are you ready to bid?’ Davis asked commission chair J.R. Eckart, who appeared before the council. ‘We should be ready by mid-February,’ Eckart said.
Carl (Buck) Mathes’s motion, seconded by Ralph Sherman, to allow the $400,000 spending from riverboat revenue, failed 2-4, with Rhonda Rhoads, Kenneth Saulman, Carl Duley and Alvin Brown voting no.
Saulman’s motion to approve $300,000, seconded by Brown, passed 6-0, with the theory that three-fourths of an animal facility is better than none.
Mathes said later, ‘It just burns me to no end why this county council is doing this to this county, holding this dog pound up.
‘Ralph and I are the only large landowners on the council that really knows the problem,’ he said. ‘People dumping dogs on us, and we have to take care of this problem … ‘
The $300,000 appropriation was made last year but expired at the end of the year since no contract had been awarded for the job.
Indian Creek Trail gets commitment it needed
Proponents of a more than three miles of paved walking trail in Corydon last night got the backing they needed from the council to apply for $1 million in federal ‘transportation enhancement’ funds.
Councilman Mathes’s motion to approve the $209,169 in riverboat funds, seconded by Carl Duley, passed 6-0, with the stipulation that the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau will be responsible for half of that.
Sean Hawkins, community development manager for the CVB, said when the trail is complete, a child could walk all the way from the South Harrison school campus in Corydon to the YMCA or to Hayswood Nature Reserve without leaving the pavement or crossing more than one or two intersections.
Also, runs or walks which are held as fund-raisers won’t require city streets to be closed once the trail is complete.
Hawkins added that great numbers of tourists ‘won’t come here to walk the trail, specifically, but this will be an enhancement; it will add to the amenities Corydon has to offer.’
If the federal grant is approved, the funds won’t be needed for some time, but the deadline to apply for the grant is Saturday. That required a commitment for the matching funds, Hawkins said.
Council chair Davis said despite what seems at times to be continuous battling between the council and commissioners, this shows just the opposite.
‘It is an example where the council and the commissioners cooperated to come up with a solution.’