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Council OKs $2.3 million; splits over $2,000 for FFOSP

The Harrison County Council Monday night unanimously approved $2.3 million in spending from the riverboat revenue account for various purposes, but split 3-3 on giving the Farm, Forest and Open Space Preservation (FFOSP) Task Force $2,000 for 2006 operating expenses.
Council chair Gary Davis cast his tie-breaking vote without explanation, joining opposing council members Rhonda Rhoads, Kenneth Saulman and Alvin Brown. Chris Timberlake and Ralph Sherman voted in favor of Carl (Buck) Mathis’ motion to approve the funding.
Perhaps it’s the name. ‘It would be worth $2,000 to change the acronym,’ Davis quipped earlier.
Having no money won’t stop the work. ‘The task force can continue to operate,’ said Commissioner Jim Heitkemper, task force chairman.
Issues behind the council’s action, he said, ‘are complex.’
‘The vote against the FFOSP funding was most likely due to pressure from constituents who want to see the program stopped,’ Davis said. ‘However, I don’t expect the lack of county funding to have much, if any, negative impact on the FFOSP effort.
‘They haven’t needed much funding to date and can probably raise any funds needed to sustain the program through private fund raising.’
The funds are needed to cover copying and mailing costs, said J.R. Eckart, chairman of the commissioners.
‘I don’t know the reasoning for this stance as it is a position that has apparently been worked out outside of the public venue,’ Eckart said. ‘I wish the council would publicly discuss this issue so we could know who supports or opposes what.
‘I guess the council is trying to kill the FFOSP task force itself,’ Eckart added. ‘Maybe that’s why Gary refuses to remember what FFOP stands for when he speaks about it.’
As explained earlier by task force members, the program would allow property owners to voluntarily preserve their land after death by selling development rights to a trust or other entity that would be established for that purpose. The landowner could continue to earn income through the use of their land until their death (through farming or timber sales, for instance); they just would not be able to develop it.
That has raised some concern that taxpayer dollars could be used in support of the program or the property could be used to produce income, but no property taxes would be assessed for the land. Also, concern has surfaced that the reduced land value would limit borrowing power and that land could be put into the preservation program that would not have been developed anyway.
A proposed ordinance submitted to the commissioners recently has been taken under advisement to allow more time for study.