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Highway funding causes heated discourse

Harrison County Commissioner Carl (Buck) Mathes and the Harrison County Council leadership sparred Monday evening at the council’s regular meeting about the new budget method the council put in place for highway funding for the commissioner districts.
During the 2012 budget session last fall, the council adopted a budget which gave the commissioners a total of $4 million for district projects and an extra, new line of $2 million for countywide projects.
Council Chair Gary Davis said the goal is to have the commissioners decide how they’ll divide the money and which projects to pursue. In the past, he said, the commissioners would spend their allotted $5 million for district projects then come back to the council throughout the year to ask for additional funding for county projects.
‘We trying to put a stop to that,’ Davis said.
Davis said he’d like to see the commissioners come up with a plan similar to the fire chiefs’ association, which has a three-year plan for improving fire service equipment for each volunteer department, not to exceed $1 million for two years.
The commissioners’ plan would involve more money, but the concept would be similar, Davis said.
The discussion began Monday night when county engineer Kevin Russel requested $500,000 for stone and gravel to be split between each of the three commissioner districts. In years past, the money was budgeted out of riverboat gaming funds, but the council cut it this year.
‘I was surprised the $500,000 wasn’t in the budget,’ Russel said.
Davis said he would like to see the commissioners transfer money from the $2 million county projects fund, or the other $1.3 million for each district, to complete road-work projects.
‘Rather than us having to continually give additionals, (the money) ought to come out of the money already budgeted,’ Davis said.
Mathes said he didn’t think the council was treating the highway department fairly. He said the new plan forces the commissioners to do less projects throughout the county.
Davis used one of Mathes’ favorite sayings from Mathes’ time as a councilman, telling Mathes the council is open twice a month to listen to additional appropriation requests.
One request made by Commissioner James Goldman, for $750,000 for the Corydon-Ramsey Road project, was denied last year and instead placed in the budget, as part of the $2 million county project fund or any fund the commissioners wanted to use.
Mathes said the council ‘brow-beat’ Goldman into having the request put in the 2012 budget instead of paying for it last year.
‘It should have been done last year,’ Mathes said. ‘I don’t go along with the council on this one bit.’
He said, after Goldman’s project and his Corydon-New Middletown Road project, the $2 million will be spent.
Davis said the $2 million is just the starting point and the figure may have to be adjusted for the 2013 budget.
The council continued its stance of no additional appropriations until the Department of Local Government Finance approves the county’s annual report and tax rates are reported to the county, which Davis expects to be in March.
In other business, the council agreed to have legal counsel Mike Summers prepare an answer on the council’s behalf to a lawsuit filed against the council from Samantha Sue Lee, Randell Todd Lee, Joshua Scott Lee, Candace Nicole Lee and Jameson Parker Lee. The claim requests compensatory damages in the amount of $2 million and punitive damages in the amount of $5 million.
The Depauw couple, Randell and Samantha, were charged in December with four counts of Class A misdemeanor cruelty to an animal and one county of Class D felony neglect of a dependent. The couple spent less than an hour in jail and each posted a $200 surety bond.
The Lees were charged after 36 cats, three dogs and four chickens were removed from their home on Nov. 17, and the Department of Child Services told the couple that their two children had to stay elsewhere until the home’s living conditions were deemed more suitable. The children returned home after a couple of days.
Legislative update Feb. 4
Peter J. Schickel invited the Harrison County Council members to the 32nd annual legislative update with State Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, and State Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown.
It will take place on the second floor of the Harrison County Justice Center and will begin with coffee, fruit and doughnuts at 7 a.m. followed by a question-and-answer session from 7:30 to 9.
The legislative update, which is open to the public, is co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County and Harrison County Farm Bureau.