Fiscal court votes to begin process that could lead to land purchase, development of nature preserve area

Posted August 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm

A proposal for the county to accept funding from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund to acquire property that may lead to a recreation or nature preserve area, took up most of the conversation at last Thursday morning’s special call meeting of Clinton Fiscal Court. The go-ahead to proceed with the first steps of the project narrowly passed when put to a vote.

Four of six court members were present for the just over one-hour call meeting, with Magistrate Patty Guinn being absent due to an illness in her family, and Magistrate Mickey Riddle also being absent from last week’s session.

Judge/Executive Lyle Huff presented the court with a Memorandum of Agreement involving the Energy and Environmental Cabinet pertaining to a proposed project that would be funded by the KHLCF.

In a letter dated July 22 to the judge, from that board chairman, Dr. Richard Kessler, he informed Huff that the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund Board had voted to award $355,500 to the fiscal court for the acquisition of the Campbell Branch property, with an additional $40,000 in management funds awarded to be dispersed in phases.

The letter further noted the property must be acquired within two years of initial board approval of the acquisition.

The KHLCF board was authorized by the Kentucky General Assembly. KRS 146.555 reads, “The General Assembly recognizes the benefit to the citizens of Kentucky of the acquisition and maintenance of certain lands for use as state parks, recreation areas, state forests, nature preserves, wildlife management areas, and wetlands. It is, therefore, in the public interest to promote and fund the conservation of such areas.”

State money is set aside in the state treasury to fund the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, according to KRS 146.570.

Campbell Branch, LLC representatives Eric Dicken and David Cross both attended last week’s meeting when the issue was discussed at length.

Judge Huff told court members the Memorandum of Agreement was the first step in acquiring the property, which he said would be used for such things as nature hikes, and would be open for foot traffic but not immediately for horse back or four-wheelers. He also said there could be things on the approximate 250 acres of property like a shelter house and picnic area. He also noted it may be a means to promote youth bow hunting.

The judge further said 27 other counties in Kentucky are taking part in the land conservation program that involve property owners who are willing to sell their property for conservation and recreation purposes.

Magistrate Terry Buster questioned about the maintenance of the area once it is converted to a conservation area, including the county having to monitor and spray for weeds and other types of upkeep.

Judge Huff indicated that type maintenance would be part of an in-kind match and that insurance would be the only liability.

Huff also added the property has not yet been appraised and added this opportunity was a one-time funding offer.

Magistrate Ricky Craig said that in a previous, similar type project, apparently referring to the Wells Bottom area, that the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife did not carry through on that particular project.

Magistrate Buster also said at one point, “Nothing is free judge,” adding there were several other nature related areas in and around the county that people could utilize, saying Agee Ridge was open to the public and also mentioning the Wolf Creek Fish Hatchery and nearby state parks.

David Cross of Campbell Branch, LLC then briefly addressed the court, noting the property was formerly owned by Otha Bell and the Bell heirs, and noted that (Otha) Bell was always willing to allow people to use his land for hunting, etc.

Cross said the county would own the property if they decide to sell it at the appraised price, but it would require limited upkeep and would be a benefit to the property.

He further asserted it would be an asset to tourism and local youth. He noted the property could be used for field trips, outdoor classrooms and the like and added the timber on the property would not be cut. Cross also said a survey had been done and they would do the parking lot themselves, adding the project would “benefit generations to come.”

Following Cross’ presentation, Magistrate Buster noted that the park was having to hold fundraisers for playground equipment and the county had to help maintain the Wellness Center, again questioning about the county’s responsibility in the upkeep of the property.

Magistrate Craig also said the property in question was about 25 miles from town.

When a brief discussion arose about the timber on the property, former Magistrate Jerry Lowhorn inferred the timber probably wouldn’t be of much value since there was a fire in the area that burned about two weeks. Judge Huff said that officials from Frankfort had viewed the area and indicated a different viewpoint.

Following the discussion, the judge called for a motion to allow him to proceed with the Memorandum of Agreement.

Magistrates Phillip Parrigin and Hershell Key each noted that this was just a preliminary phase and since no appraisal has yet been taken, even if they voted to proceed initially, it wouldn’t be a done deal at this time.

Magistrate Parrigin made the motion to authorize the judge to sign the agreement, with Key seconding the motion. On a roll call vote, those magistrates voted yes while Buster and Craig voted no, creating a tie. Judge Huff broke the tie with a yes vote.

In reference to the project, a meeting was held on Monday morning of this week with officials from the KHLCF to review the Memorandum, as well as review the entire acquisition process. No timeline was given as to when the property may actually be appraised.

In other business last week, the court:

* Voted to pay claims and bills.

* Approved the monthly treasurer’s report and second reading of a budget amendment, adding a little over $393,000 in 2012-13 year carryover funds into the 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

* Approved the sheriff’s 2012 tax settlement, which court members noted was a very good settlement, and also approved payment to CPA Ed Lanham, who conducted the settlement.

* During a brief public hearing on the Bates Delk Road, the court voted to close a portion of the road–about 900 feet total on either side of the new bypass, with the right-of-way to stay with the county.

* Entered into a brief closed session on personnel but took no official action.

The county tax rates had originally been on the agenda for last week’s session, however, the state hadn’t released totals or enough information for the county to act. That item was postponed and will likely be taken up at a future special meeting.

The next regular meeting of Clinton Fiscal Court is scheduled for Thursday, September 19 at 5 p.m. and is open to the public.