A sign warning users to maintain social distancing is posted near the walking path at Lakeview Park. (Hannah Brown | State Journal)

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Friday, May 14 at 10:21 a.m. to reflect that Richard Tanner's voted down reappointment was for placement on the Farmdale Water District board, not the Farmdale Sanitation District board.

Following a lengthy selection and negotiation process by  Franklin County’s Park Committee, the fiscal court Thursday evening voted 5-2 to approve a $187,000 consulting contract with Hitchcock Design Group for a plan to reimagine Lakeview Park.

The vote did not happen before a drawn-out controversy about a $15,000 provision added to the contract for “legal consulting." Near the end of a four-hour meeting, the court approved 4-3 one version of the contract that cost $202,000 with the provision included, but County Attorney Rick Sparks blocked it because he could not "approve the form and legality" of the contract.

After Sparks blocked it, Magistrate Lambert Moore made a motion to vote on the project without the provision.

"I made this motion because it's in the community's best interest to get something done out there," Moore said. "I'm torn on a yes or no... I'm still going to vote no on this because I'm not certain on all the complete aspects of it."

It passed 5-2, with Moore and Magistrate Marti Booth voting "no."

Sparks made his disapproval well known in a Park Committee meeting to discuss the contract on Wednesday. Magistrates Scotty Tracy and Michael Mueller went against the recommendation of Sparks, who said he “strongly opposed” the measure which would have brought the total contract price down to $187,000.

Tracy argued at the Park Committee meeting that funding mechanisms would be a vital part of creating a complete feasibility study.

“I think everybody from the word ‘go’ agreed that the biggest hurdle we have to get over is how we’re going to pay for it,” Tracy said. “If this firm has services that they can offer that will bring ideas to us for creative funding mechanisms, I think we’d be foolish not to include that in the toolbox.”

Sparks, at the full fiscal court meeting, said that in his opinion even if the court wanted outside consulting on funding, it wouldn’t be needed until they have a project plan before them to approve going forward with funding.

“This wouldn’t be needed until when the feasibility study is going to be completed,” Sparks said. “It strikes me as extremely premature … . I strongly oppose it, and, by the way, you’d get to save $15,000.”

He added that he didn’t interpret the contract with the legal service provider to be explicitly related to funding. Mueller countered that in his discussions with Hitchcock representatives, his understanding is that the line item would go toward funding plans.

Judge-Executive Huston Wells and other county staff had expressed some sticker shock at the high price, especially relative to the City of Frankfort’s recent Parks Master Plan process that cost them $125,000.

Mueller argued that what the county could do based on the feasibility study would be much bigger in scope than what’s been recommended in the city’s process.

“It’s not just enhancing what we have, it’s literally building a park,” Mueller said. “I’m excited and I think this would bring a huge economic boost to the county that we need more than ever.”

Magistrate J.W. Blackburn agreed.

“I think we’ve been stagnant for a lot of years, especially in economic development,” Blackburn said. “It boosts tourism, it bolsters services, we’ll have people walking up and down our towns. This is huge, and I think we’re at the precipice of something that’s going to be an economic driver … . I know that this is something the community has been crying for, and they have been for a long time.”

TIF Presentation

The fiscal court was presented with information regarding the city’s pledge toward a downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, with the city asking the county to chip in 50% of its marginal tax revenue from the development that’s planned to occur there.

A majority of the court, with the exception of Wells and Moore, expressed a desire to delay voting on the matter, citing a need to consider the presented information for a longer period. The agenda item was removed from the voting meeting during discussion.

Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson was present with City Manager Tom Russell and City Planning & Community Development Director Eric Cockley to field the court’s questions.

The trio reiterated several items such as the city's planned 75% commitment to the district, the fact that the plan is all contingent on receipt of a federal transit grant to assist the city in funding its planning garage and transit center, and the order in which TIF funds would reimburse various parts of the development’s public infrastructure.

In response to a question from Tracy, Wilkerson notably acknowledged that there is nothing preventing the landowners from selling the property once the city builds its parking garage.

Magistrate J.W. Blackburn pointed out that some mixed-use TIFs have resulted in drawn-out processes about the merits of the project because when a project applies for such a TIF, the state requires a second consultant's report to be completed on the economic impacts of the project.

Both TIF attorney Jim Parsons and Wilkerson pointed out that the state consultant step wouldn't be required should the city opt to apply for a portion of the state property ad valorem tax.

Wilkerson noted that the property tax route would be simpler.

"At the end of the day whatever is out there from a property tax standpoint is going to be new," Wilkerson said. "… That’s tens of thousands of dollars, and I think that’s worth applying for. I share some concerns, but at the end of the day I keep coming back to ‘I don’t know why we wouldn’t do this.’"

Russell also mentioned that the city’s meetings with Max Allen, the owner of the Capital Plaza Hotel, which sits right next to Parcel B, have gone well regarding their plans for the property.

At the end of the meeting, Moore expressed a readiness to go ahead and commit the city’s requested 50%, but other magistrates cooled on the notion.

The court’s next regular meeting will take place on May 27.

Other business

The court approved the replacement of Farmdale Sanitation District board Chair Alan Alsip. Taking his place on June 1 is Ferlin Wright.

“It is a pleasure to look at the level of qualification,” Sebastian said. “Having spoken with Mr. Wright months ago and encouraging him to put his talents before us, I’m excited.”

Sebastian and other members of the court also highly commended Alsip’s work at the head of the Farmdale Sanitation District board.

Wright has previously served on the Peaks Mill Water District board.

The reappointment of Richard Tanner, a current member of the Farmdale Sanitation District board, was rejected in a 4-3 vote. Booth, Wells and Moore voted yes while Sebastian, Mueller, Tracy and Blackburn voted no.

"To not reappoint someone like Richard Tanner is a shame," Wells said. "He's given everything he's got to make that district better and I feel sorry that that's the case."

County Clerk Jeff Hancock was present to announce his new deputy clerk who replaces longtime deputy Jack Kennedy. Kennedy’s replacement is Franklin County native Jeff Smith.

Hancock also described his intention to test his office’s new voting equipment out at all three local high schools when those schools vote on their class councils. Hancock said the initiative would kill two birds with one stone.

“It gives them exposure to how the election process works, and gives us a chance to make sure the equipment works correctly.”

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