Farmland lease put on hold

Farmland lease put on hold

Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:03 pm

By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
The Obion County Commission has postponed action on a contract for the lease of farmland around Everett-Stewart Regional Airport amid concerns from the airport board.
The commission’s agenda Monday included consideration of farm lease contracts for both the airport and county nursing home land.
Tim Smith, director of the University of Tennessee Extension Service in Obion County, said the county’s agricultural committee met and decided to bid out the county-owned farmland.
Airport board chairman Dr. Chris Gooch prefaced his address to the commission Monday by telling commissioners the airport is in good shape due to the cooperative efforts of Obion and Weakley counties.
He said the airport board has a problem with the proposed farm lease. He further explained that in the course of extending the airport runway, some farmland was taken out of production, resulting in some loss of income to farmers and talk of possible legal action.
Gooch said Weakley County officials have expressed concerns that they have no input in the creation of a lease, as well as possible exposure to financial loss without representation.
Through an interlocal agreement, Obion and Weakley counties both participated in the acquisition of about 70 acres of land for the runway extension project and participate in funding. Gooch said Weakley County could have asked to be placed on the deed as a co-owner, but did not do so and rather trusted Obion County.
Gooch said there are several entities which must be satisfied in decisions, including both Obion and Weakley county officials, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration. He said TDOT also has a problem with the proposed lease and wants the airport board to negotiate the farmland lease in consultation with the county agricultural committee — with the lease being between the airport and farmers like before.
Gooch said the bottom line is that the airport board would like to see the proposed farm lease contract tabled or withdrawn from the commission’s consideration. He asked that the airport board be allowed to deal with the contract and then move forward with improvements at the airport — which he called an “economic carrot” to entice business and industry to the area.
During lengthy discussion, commissioner Jerry Grady said the property is owned by the county and the county has the authority to lease it. Gooch said the interlocal agreement gives the airport the authority to handle day-to-day problems in the airport’s operation, yet it would have no input on the lease. He said Weakley County has continually shown its trust in Obion County and he said it is past time to return that trust.
Smith, who formerly served on the airport board, said he likes the way the lease of the farmland has previously been handled. He said the proposed contract leaves “too many hurdles” and too many questions.
Commissioner Danny Jowers said the 600 acres at the airport is Obion County’s property and he said the county should have final say. He said all leases of county land must come before the county commission.
County attorney Steve Conley said he would like to get further clarification on some issues, noting that a recent opinion on the matter from the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) was made without them having a copy of the original airport deed.
Commissioner Tim Doyle said the commission has trusted the airport board in the past and he said the commission is trying to “micromanage” when it already has a commission-appointed airport board.
Commissioner Donnie Braswell ultimately made the motion to bring the contract matter before next month’s county commission meeting in order to allow time for Conley to do further research and to hear from CTAS. His motion was approved by a vote of 17-4, with Grady, Jowers, Doyle and commissioner Dwayne Hensley voting against it.
Gooch emphasized that Weakley County’s concerns must be addressed and he said the airport board does not want to lose a good partnership.
Gooch also requested a couple of minor wording changes in the interlocal agreement and Jowers said they will be placed on the budget committee’s agenda for consideration.
In other action during Monday’s 90-minute long meeting, which was opened with prayer led by Braswell and the Pledge of Allegiance, the commission:
• Voted down a motion to accept a grant available through Inspection Solutions for building code training. It failed by a vote of 14-6.
• Approved a trio of resolutions presented by Lindsay Frilling of the Obion County Joint Economic Development Council. They included those pertaining to participation in the Three-Star Program for sustained economic growth, compliance with federal Title VI regulations and adoption of a Strategic Economic Development Plan.
• Approved the release of 2009 county taxes.
• OK’d a resolution to amend the County General Fund $6,815 for the cost of computer equipment for the trustee’s office as an emergency purchase.
• Approved a resolution to authorize an application for a litter and trash collecting grant for fiscal year 2011-12.
• OK’d a resolution to adopt a continuing budget and tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which extends the county budget from last year until a new budget is adopted for 2011-12. Jowers said budget committee hearings will start next week and he encouraged all commissioners to attend to provide input.
• Accepted a report from the Indigent Care Trust Fund.
• Received a delinquent tax report, which included a list of 25 properties deeded to the county due to delinquent taxes, and authorized Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire to negotiate and sell them. One of the properties, a former store building on Main Street in Hornbeak, was condemned by the state fire marshal and ordered torn down within 90 days.
• OK’d a surety bond for Obion County Highway Superintendent Gary Lofton.
• Approved several board appointments, including Brenda Baker to the library board; Mike Cox to the regional library board; Janis Lacewell, the Rev. Bobby Williams, Tracey Batey, Earnest Daniels, Timmy Gant, the Rev. Terry Council and Sonny Yarbrough to the nursing home board; and Art Chivers and McGuire to the West Tennessee Railroad Authority.
All of the appointments were unanimous, with the exception of the nursing home board vote, on which Hensley cast a dissenting vote.
• Approved four notary public applications.
All 21 county commissioners answered roll call for Monday’s session.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 5.17.11

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