JEFFERSONVILLE — The River Ridge Development Authority’s board of directors hopes to satisfy, or at least give an answer to, two battling communities that want financial assistance from the commerce center. The board is just asking for a bit of time.
The City of Jeffersonville wants tens of acres from River Ridge for a state-of-the-art park, as well as $1 million a year for five years for fire department services that the city provides to the business and industrial park.
The Town of Utica wants 80 to 100 acres for residential development, as well as a concrete plan detailing how River Ridge will distribute excess funds among the majority of its appointing authorities.
Jeffersonville recently filed an appeal in a lawsuit against Utica that alleges the town improperly annexed land that Utica eventually permitted out for the use of billboards, which Jeffersonville also opposes.
The development authority responded to Utica and Jeffersonville’s requests by passing a resolution on Monday to consider their entreaties by comparing them to the commerce center’s recently passed strategic plan and its redevelopment and economic development mission. The development authority also will consider how the requests could impact the other development authorities, Utica, Jeffersonville, Charlestown, Clark County and the Indiana Port Commission.
River Ridge has received several requests over the years for funding help, and development authority member Phil McCauley said that he doesn’t want anything, including the requests, interfering with the commerce center’s plans. Board members hope that considering their guiding plans, such as the strategic plan, when ruling on requests will keep them successful.
Development authority President Mark Robinson said he wasn’t sure how long it would take the board’s members to review the requests, but McCauley said he hoped that they would have an answer within 30 days.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore, who presented the city’s request at Monday’s meeting, was disappointed with the delay.
“It is frustrating to have to wait,” he said, adding that he hopes the matter is settled in one month just like McCauley said.
Jeffersonville’s fire department has only one station near River Ridge, and its calls have tripled since 2014, Moore said. He would like to increase the station’s staff in the area, which includes residences and River Ridge businesses, but that would cost $2.3 million, according to the mayor. The fire department isn’t currently funded by property taxes in the River Ridge area because, as part of a tax increment financing district, that money goes to the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission instead.
“I’m not asking for a gift.” Moore said about his request for $1 million a year. “I”m not out here asking with my hand out: ‘hey, you guys are doing so good. I need money.’ What I’m asking for is help paying for the services that are provided.”
Jeffersonville would reduce its request from River Ridge if the commerce center’s urban enterprise zone benefits dropped to a point where they were contributing more to the city’s general fund.
As for Moore’s park, landscape architects have already drawn up plans for it. Chapel Lake Park would be the first for the city north of Interstate 265 and, Moore hopes, an asset to River Ridge employees. Moore wants to get started as soon as possible.
McCauley called Moore’s request for fire department funding important, but he stressed that River Ridge already has budgeted all of its funds for the year, except for $263,000.
Utica, on the other hand, would like River Ridge to donate some of its land best suited for residences to the town. The two entities have been talking about the possibility for a while now, but River Ridge Executive Director Jerry Acy said that conversations stopped when the strategic plan was being created.
Utica Town Council President Steve Long believes that River Ridge stopped communicating because Utica approved billboards along I-265. River Ridge opposes the billboards and is currently locked in a lawsuit with the town over the signs. Robinson of the development authority suggested that work on the idea might have stopped because the lawsuit took precedence over other issues.
Most of all, Utica seems to want River Ridge to consider it an equal compared to Jeffersonville and the other appointment authorities. Long complained of a second instance of perceived injustice when the development authority declined to help Utica with a matching grant that would have improved the town’s main thoroughfare. Robinson said that legal counsel advised against giving Utica the money.
Long is also upset that River Ridge sued Utica.
“Members shouldn’t sue each other,” he said.
Long would like River Ridge to finalize a resolution that was first introduced in 2009 that would have finalized how the commerce center should divvy up excess funds. The original interlocal agreement between River Ridge appointing authorities stated that funds would be distributed proportionate to the amount that each authority contributed to the commerce center’s startup costs. (All authorities contributed to River Ridge except for the Indiana Port Commission). But because the authorities’ contributions were disproportionate, the development authority wants to rework the agreement to be more fair.
In its Monday resolution, the board committed to finally addressing the allocation of excess funds.
Robinson said that he hopes the measure helps appointment authorities, including Charlestown, as well as Utica, feel as if they’re equals.
Hank Dorman, the vice president of the Utica Town Council, said that he would like for the town to get along with River Ridge and the other appointment authorities.
“I think the [town] board, we’d like to get this behind us and restore our friendliness, our workability in this situation,” he said.
That might be even more likely than originally thought as Robinson hinted Monday at the resolution of River Ridge’s lawsuit against Utica. “Real progress” has been made since a meeting last week between the appointment authorities, he said.
Everyone seems to want the lawsuit to be dropped, according to Robinson — whether that be through a settlement, dismissal or some other solution.