The former CEO of Madison Railroad questioned the viability of strategic planning and marketing for the former Jefferson Proving Ground located north of Madison being considered by the Jefferson County Commissioners.
Commissioner David Bramer said during Thursday’s meeting that a proposal the Commissioners sought to study JPG’s economic development potential was received last week from consultant Crawford, Murphy and Tilly and has now been shared with Commissioners Ron Lee and Bobby Little to review before deciding how to move forward. The Commission previously designated up to $500,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to conduct the JPG study with the amount spent depending on the scale needed.
Cathy Hale, who retired at the end of last year as chief executive officer of the Madison Railroad located at the former JPG site, questioned the viability of the property for economic development and the need for the study.
Hale noted that much of the Jefferson Proving Ground land “is privately held, and in the past the owner has not been amenable to selling sections.” She added that if the owner does consider selling, there are other possibilities for development. “We have a lot of entrepreneurs that are smart to know how they can purchase and use land at the proving ground if and when it becomes available.”
Hale worked with the City of Madison’s municipal railway 43 years, starting in 1978 soon after the city took over the 25-mile line between Madison and North Vernon. She said Madison Port Authority was the first property owner in JPG in 1995 during the base closure process by purchasing 15 miles of railroad tracks and a 10,000 square foot building.
Dean Ford, of Dupont, purchased a considerable amount of JPG acreage — cleaned up and deemed uncontaminated by the former military munitions testing facility — in a 1995 auction but has been reluctant to sell off land since while farming the property.
“I’m familiar with the process from beginning to end on the base closure,” said Hale. She said she is aware of several instances where Ford was going to sell land, and then backed out.
“I would want to see, as a taxpayer, something in writing” that the owner is not just considering the possibility of selling land, “but that he has it for sale and a price because otherwise that is money down the drain that could be used for not-for-profits or other purposes.”
Hale said in all of her years of involvement at JPG, she had “never been successful in purchasing what would have been an acre of land that is of no value to this person.” Hale said she was involved in a deal with CSX Corporation, an American holding company focused on rail transportation and real estate, “and they said they would never deal with this landowner again because he raised the price twice during the deal, and they would not be caught in the middle of a deal like that. So, I want to see things in writing before we study something that may or may not be for sale.”
“As I told you on the phone, I will talk to him,” Bramer responded. “Didn’t I tell that?”
“Yes, I want it on record that as a taxpayer I am requesting this because there is nobody in this community that has more experience than I do at the Jefferson Proving Ground,” Hale said
Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, the Commissioners received a follow-up request from Hale to support the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southeastern Indiana, a non-profit that works to minimize trauma suffered by victims of child abuse.
Hale said she had actually attended Thursday’s meeting to voice her support for the Children’s Advocacy Center as a follow up the Commissioners meeting on Aug. 18 and emphasize the importance of CAC’s work.
“I am an abuse survivor,” she said, noting if there had been “some kind of awareness and educational program in the schools when I was a child, I might have known there are people to go to for these things.”
“I am not an employee of the CAC. I am not a volunteer for the CAC. I am here as a survivor knowing what they could have done for me, and wanting them to be there” for others, Hale said urging the Commissioners to commit to funding the CAC. “I’m trying to be patient but I’m not a very patient person.”
Commissioners President Ron Lee said all three Commissioners are in favor of providing assistance to the CAC but they have not yet determined the amount.
Bramer said it’s only been a couple of weeks since Hale made the request. “It takes a little bit of time,” he said, adding that other organizations are also asking for funding, and the Commissioners have been working toward a thoughtful process to considering where the county’s ARP funds should be spent in the county. Much of the ARP money has been allocated but some funds do remain and requests are being considered.
“It’s going to take patience before we can come up with an amount that we want to publicly commit to because we want to make sure it’s a fair amount, and we want to make sure it’s fair for others as well,” Bramer said, adding the Commissioners are in the process of establishing guidelines for non-profits which they hope to have completed in a month.
In other business:
• Mark Shireman, project-in-charge manager for Shireman Construction, the construction manager for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Criminal Justice Center that’s currently under construction, sought an extension of $4,000 for Atlas, a company that tests concrete and soil on the site. Shireman said it’s money that’s already in the budget for the project and the Commissioners granted approval.
“Thank you for what you’re doing,” Commissioner Bobby Little said. “Being out there and working with you, you’ve got our backs” in being sure all the work is done as it should be.
“You’re going to have a real nice facility, something we’re all going to be proud of,” Shireman said.
• Approved a contract with Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions Inc., for a stormwater management master plan at a cost of $62,260. Bramer said Wood’s bid was the lowest of four received, but added that was only part of the consideration. The company also met the criteria of a five-member selection committee that determined the company could best develop the plan. “This will allow us to come up with an ordinance to set standards for stormwater management,” Bramer said, in order to mitigate flooding and water issues. The county’s zoning ordinance currently has only five lines concerning stormwater so “it was time to put something together.”
• Approved a contract for capital asset management consultation services with independent contractor Ron Heller for $7,500. Capital asset inventory and valuation is a requirement by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
• Approved a two-year $130,404.75 contract with United Consulting for bridge inspections. County Highway Superintendent Bobby Phillips said the Indiana Department of Transportation will reimburse the county 80% of the cost with the county actually paying 20%. The Commissioners also approved the purchase of a 2016 Kenworth T370 dump truck for $79,900. Phillips noted crews have nearly completed the gravel road conversion of Poplar Ridge Road to blacktop.
• Troy Morgan, Emergency Management Agency director, reported that items stored by the county at the Jefferson County 4-H Fairgrounds have now been moved to the county’s new storage building at 215 West Lagrange Road, Hanover, the former site of Persnickety Antique Mall. Morgan said Hanover Township Volunteer Fire Department provided assistance with the move.