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May 2, 2012

Execs address Gahan’s veto of New Albany, Floyd County parks deal

NEW ALBANY — There was no way Floyd County Commissioner Mark Seabrook could leave Tuesday night’s meeting without discussing what he referred to as “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

The gorilla, otherwise known as New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan’s recent veto of a new interlocal agreement between the city and county to fund the parks department, was a hot topic at the conclusion of the meeting. All three commissioners approved the new ordinance last month as did the seven county council members. The city council approved it by a 5-4 vote before sending it to the mayor who announced Monday he had vetoed the ordinance.

The new deal calls for equal funding mechanisms between the city and county to be put in place by Oct. 1. The new agreement would be void if either side failed to meet the funding requirements. However, Gahan said Monday he vetoed the ordinance because the county had failed to honor past parks deals. The old agreement called for the two entities to split funding based on population, which is nearly equal. But in the past five years, the city has paid $2 million more to the parks department than the county.

“While I vetoed this proposed agreement, we are still currently operating under an agreement which requires equalized funding based on population,” Gahan said Monday. “The city of New Albany will continue to honor our agreements and fully fund the parks department. It is time for the county to do the same for the betterment of all Floyd County.”

But county officials were not pleased with the mayor using his veto power on an agreement they said had been worked on for six months, without any input from Gahan who they say did not attend one meeting on the matter.

“That was a good agreement. We had a year to work on it and it was a fair agreement,” Seabrook said. “The three commissioners voted unanimously to approve the agreement, the county council voted unanimously on the agreement, and five city council members approved the agreement. Three attorneys also looked at it and now we’re back to square one with nothing. I hope the city council overrides the veto.”

The city council will meet Monday. It will take six votes to override the mayor’s veto.

County Commissioner Steve Bush said he was disappointed with the veto after months of work had gone in to working on the agreement.

One of the city’s complaints was that the $150,000 recently approved by the county council to be paid to the parks department to help make up the funding discrepancy for 2012 had yet to be paid. But County Council President Ted Heavrin said Tuesday the money was sitting there in the county coffers and all the city had to do was fill out a claim form.

County attorney Rick Fox said attorneys, from both the city and county, have been “massaging” the agreement for months. He said at no time did he ever get the impression that the mayor would veto the ordinance.

“I was shocked,” Fox said. “At our last meeting I was under the impression that it was guaranteed to pass. I felt like it was a done deal.”

Said Bush: “This agreement would allow us to move forward and do what is right for the parks department and the residents.”  

If the city council does not override the veto, and if the county council fails to give the parks department an additional $100,000 which was part of the new agreement, services could be cut and parks employees laid off.

“If the city had a problem with this, they are the fiscal agent, and they never raised this issue once,” Fox said.

Parks Department Director  Roger Jeffers thanked county officials for approving the new agreement.

“This was six months of work that really took a step back,” he said.

He said the parks board will continue to push for a parks district which would take politics out of the mix and guarantee funding each year.

“That way we would not have to do this every year. It just takes too much time and energy,” he said.

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