Tempers flare over proposed McDowell office
by Jack Latta email@example.com
PRESTONSBURG — Fiscal Court proceedings became testy once again, as court members discussed a proposed lease agreement for a new county courthouse extension office to be located at McDowell.
The details of the arrangement are still somewhat unclear. However, at some point Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall directed County Attorney Keith Bartley to draft a letter to the state legislature, asking that funds be set aside in coal severance money for the lease of a building for the purpose of an extension office.
Next, the court passed a resolution in April approving payment to Hall Limited Partnership LLC., owned by Denzil Hall, for a year’s lease, and a check was cut despite the county not having any formal agreement with the corporation. Bartley did say the check has not yet been executed.
During the meeting, Marshall read all 18 sections of the lease agreement aloud, which in summary, stipulate that the county agrees to lease the property for $60,000 a year, to be paid exclusively from coal severance money. The lease provides the county the ability to terminate the lease at any time provided they give 90 days notice.
According to PVA records, Hall purchased the McDowell property in 2007 for $19,500, which is its current assessed value. PVA officials said it would likely be reassessed next year with the new building and improvements.
The county plans to use approximately 4,000 square feet of the 5,000 square foot building to house county extension offices for the Floyd County Clerk, the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, Floyd County Attorney, and Circuit Court Clerk. The Floyd County Clerk already has an office in McDowell, and will be moving to the new location.
During a heated portion of the debate, as county staffer, and Judge Marshall’s wife, Lois Marshall began to speak up, Bartley cut her off, saying, “I don’t want to hear from you,” adding that if the judge had questions, he would be happy to answer them, but he would not be taking questions from her.
Marshall said she had a right to speak as a citizen, to which Bartley responded, “This is a special-called meeting. There are no citizens’ comments.”
Lois Marshall again interceded when Bartley called into question why Judge Marshall had, in his original draft of the lease, sought signatures from all the magistrates, county officials, as well as himself. The court conducts business with private companies by having the magistrates pass a resolution, giving the judge-executive the authority to enter into the agreement. Bartley said that having magistrates sign an agreement had “never been done before.”
However, Lois Marshall disagreed, stating that a lease for private property was “different,” because “it isn’t government owned.”
But District 1 Magistrate John Goble disagreed, saying, “We lease equipment from private companies all the time,” and adding that the judge’s signature was all that was required for those agreements.
Bartley chimed in, “It’s all a political game.”
In the end, Floyd County magistrates voted unanimously to approve a resolution allowing Judge Marshall, on behalf of the Fiscal Court, to enter into the agreed upon lease with Hall Limited Partnership LLC., though magistrates admitted to entering into the agreement under duress.
“We’re bound by law,” said District 1 Magistrate John Goble. “We’ve been threatened by lawsuit if we don’t agree with it,” Goble said of his motion to allow Marshall to sign the lease. District 2 Magistrate Hattie Owens seconded the motion.
The original letter requesting the funds does not mention Hall Limited Partnership LLC. by name, and before Thursday, magistrates had never passed any resolution binding the county to a lease. Following the meeting, Bartley was asked about the merit of the threats of litigation, to which he said that there could have been some “verbal agreement,” made on behalf of the county.
As heated discussion rose again, Marshall attempted to take order back by addressing the current motion.
“I was not going to recognize this motion, but I will. We don’t need…” said Judge Marshall, before being cut off by District 3 Magistrate Warren Jarrell.
“You’ve got us drug into this thing,” Jarrell said to the judge. “Magistrates didn’t have any knowledge of the contract being drawn up.”
Before the doors even open to the office, its future is already in question. County Treasurer David Layne noted earlier this year that coal severance money for the county continues to shrink year after year, and that currently, the lease for the building is only funded for two years. When asked why the court did not choose to seek money to build or purchase a building, which would have provided more long-term security for the offices, Bartley surmised that the upfront expense would likely have been a hurdle.
Marshall was adamant that the fiscal court would not be responsible for any costs associated with the building other than liability insurance. “This judge won’t sign anything that has expense to this court,” said Marshall. “If there are any bills that come to this address, I won’t pay them.”
Coal severance money was originally put in place to create economic development to help lessen Eastern Kentucky’s economic dependence on coal. The offices will provide a service, but as to the economic impact that such a facility will have, court members say they will have to wait and see. They did state that at this time there are no plans to make new hires, but will instead rotate current employees into the office, except for the County Clerk, who already has a staffed office which will be moving into the new facility.
Individual office expenses and utilities will be paid by the occupying offices. Judge Marshall told the court that he was originally supposed to have an office in the building, but said recent financial difficulties have made it impossible. Marshall also said there was no need for the judge’s office to have an extension.
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