Just one day after Highland County Commissioners announced their intentions to withdraw their request for a 12-month extension to implement an $843,000 Rocky Fork Lake grant from the Department of Justice, commissioners were notified that the DOJ had approved the extension request.
Commissioner Gary Abernathy on Thursday told the Times-Gazette, “we’ll have to mull this over.”
“We’ll have a discussion in open session,” he said, “and we’ll express our opinions and get the other commissioners’ thoughts on it, and make a decision very publicly.”
In a press release, the commissioners said they received an email dated 12:02 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, informing them that the request for an extension had been approved.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after hearing nothing on questions we have raised, the DOJ suddenly decided to notify us of the extension approval just hours after media reports announced we were withdrawing our request,” Abernathy said in the statement. “This has been the pattern for the past two years, since the grant was originally awarded.”
The Times-Gazette published a story online Wednesday and in print Thursday about the commissioners’ decision to let the grant extension deadline expire.
Abernathy said while the 12-month extension was granted, the revised budget still has not been approved, and open issues from a past site visit still need to be addressed before any funds are released.
“This extension isn’t like everything is now going forward,” he said. “They made it very clear in the phone conversation we had that they’re not releasing any funds until the budget is approved and the site visit questions are answered.”
All three commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting expressed annoyance with the lack of progress with the Rocky Fork Lake grant, especially Abernathy, who spoke of “all the federal red tape and hoops we would’ve had to jump through for the next 12 months” if an extension were granted.
“This is putting everybody through more months of frustration and misery, or do we say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and proceed much more quickly with our own plan, which I feel is doing something,” Abernathy said.
At the commissioners’ request, the DOJ agreed to give the county until Wednesday, Oct. 3 to make a final decision on whether or not to proceed with pursuing the grant, or follow their plan announced Wednesday to pursue lake initiatives on crime and blight cleanup under local funding and control.
Commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and Abernathy will discuss the issue in open session at their next scheduled meeting Wednesday, Oct. 3 before making a final decision.
“Do we keep putting things on hold and dealing with months of uncertainty, or do we proceed with our local plan?” Abernathy said. “That’s what we have to weigh in on next Wednesday.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.