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Officials tackle long-range plan for riverboat funds

Priorities among officials for spending riverboat revenue the next few years got ample airing at Saturday’s special meeting of the Harrison County commissioners and council, but much of it was hot air.
Funding for land preservation and the alternative school drew particular attention during the discussion of long-range planning.
Third District Commissioner Jim Heitkemper, obviously miffed with detractors of the Farm, Forest and Open Space Preservation (FFOSP) task force’s proposed plan, took some council members to task for what he said was not bothering to learn the truth about the voluntary program.
The previous week, the council had denied 4-3 a $2,000 request for riverboat money to cover this year’s operating expenses, such as postage and copying expenses, for the task force.
He lamented the lack of cooperation, to the point of denying an insignificant amount of money especially compared to the costs of other programs.
‘These sacred cows ‘ they’re all good,’ said Heitkemper, ‘but farmland is just as good.
‘It infuriates me when a lot of people out there are poisoning my efforts with false statements,’ Heitkemper said. ‘It reflects on the county council that (council members) didn’t even give me a call to correct some of these things.’
The task force will continue its efforts, and it will probably continue to seek approval for the $2,000, Heitkemper said. ‘Farm taxes have tripled in the last two or three years,’ he said. ‘We should be able to say, ‘I want this always to be farmland.’
‘People (who) are trying to kill this effort have no idea at all. It frustrates me, annoys me and deepens my resolve,’ Heitkemper said.
Council chair Gary Davis, who broke the council’s 3-3 tie on the funding in opposition, told Heitkemper he had voted against the request because the task force can continue its work with or without the money. Farm land preservation has no support from the state, he said. ‘It’s difficult to swim upstream when there’s no help from the state,’ Davis said.
Davis added that conceptually he supports the program.
Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads said farmland more worthy of preservation is in northern Indiana. And even though none has been requested so far, she’s not in favor of using county funds to purchase development rights from farmers, which would be necessary to preserve the land.
The lack of support is with the program, which shouldn’t be taken personally, she told Heitkemper.
Commission chair J.R. Eckart said although all of the costs of the program are still unknown, he supports it. ‘I’m for preserving green land for the future,’ he said.
Heitkemper said the source of the problem with land preservation lies with differing opinions: those who want to protect property and those who want to make money from it.
Doug Dodge, president of the Alternative School’s board, and several others, appeared to seek direction from the officials whether to consider their location in the former annex as permanent or temporary, in which case they would need to look for a place to rent or purchase. A building in Corydon is available for $195,000, they said.
The question is due to an earlier stated goal of the commissioners to vacate the annex, which is hard by Little Indian Creek. The creek flooded in 1997, causing damage to county offices located in the building.
In no uncertain terms, Councilman Ralph Sherman let them know he would not support purchasing a building for the alternative school.
‘I’m against buying buildings,’ he said emphatically, as he left the meeting to attend another commitment. ‘For three years, I’ve been trying to get a 4-H building … ‘
At any rate, Councilman Alvin Brown said, ‘You need to stay where you are. I wouldn’t like to see the county build anymore … We keep inheriting all these buildings; we ought to go into real estate.’
Brown also wasn’t keen about spending any additional revenue on education. ‘Jim Miller (welfare director) spends all this money on these brats,’ Brown said, referring to children who continue to misbehave.
And, he said, ‘We spend more on education than any country in the world, and the kids learn less.’
Dodge told Brown, ‘It’s not the school system; it’s the parents’ who don’t ‘give a flip’ about their children’s education and/or behavior.
Dodge said the annex is well suited for the alternative school, and there’s no reason to move unless that’s what officials want. ‘We’re pleased where we are,’ he said.
There was more discussion though of alternative school funding.
Davis said there’s sentiment on the council for the school corporations to cover the costs of the alternative school from riverboat funds that are given to enhance education. ‘We feel the baby’s been born; we ought to hand it over to the parents,’ he said.
Including the alternative school funding in school budgets would require the program to meet strict state guidelines, but Commissioner James Goldman said there might be a way to have the schools handle the funding and not the administration of the program.
To that, Brown said, ‘Giving them money’s like giving a monkey a machine gun.
‘The only thing they know is how to spend.’
(Brown explained later that he was speaking about schools in general and implying that schools didn’t know how to handle money any better than a monkey would know how to handle a machine gun.)
At any rate, the alternative board said earlier that the program is saving money by keeping juveniles in school who have been in trouble instead of sending them to detention elsewhere.
Davis, the council chair, said he will refigure the proposed spending plan for some $23 million a year in direct riverboat taxes as discussed Saturday and then call another joint meeting with the commissioners.