Highland County Board of Commissioners President Shane Wilkin on Wednesday reiterated his frustration with a division of the U.S. Department of Justice for holding up the implementation of an $844,000 grant for the Rocky Fork Lake area.
Wilkin also engaged in a debate with Barb Cole, a Highland County resident who often attends public meetings, after she suggested nixing the county land bank as a compromise with the program coordinators.
As previously reported, the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program of the DOJ put the grant on hold last year, questioning the creation of a land bank as part of the grant.
Wilkin recently told The Times-Gazette that local officials are now being told a land bank is not permitted as part of the grant, with federal officials saying the bank was not included with the original grant application.
To the contrary, Wilkin said the land bank was mentioned 29 times in the implementation plan submitted as part of the grant.
During the meeting, Wilkin expressed his frustration with the program coordinators, saying federal officials have not been willing to meet with him and other local officials and representatives in regard to the grant.
During the meeting, Cole said the county should be willing to compromise so the funds will be released.
“If they’ve changed their mind about liking the land bank, wouldn’t it make sense rather than be stubborn about it… just to say, ‘Hey, you don’t like the land bank? No problem. We’ll take the land bank out,’” Cole said.
“I guess I’m just not of the mindset to give up quite that easily,” Wilkin replied.
“I don’t know,” Cole said, “I’d fight pretty hard for that much money.”
“We are fighting very hard for that much money,” Wilkin said, “but we’re also fighting for exactly what our implementation grant said.”
Wilkin also said the land bank wasn’t the only part of the grant federal officials didn’t like.
“They suddenly didn’t like the structure… they didn’t like how we collaborated,” he said.
Wilkin said there’s “no doubt they’ve irreparably harmed the ability of this grant to produce as much as it could, and it was moving in a very good way. It’s very frustrating.”
When first awarded, the grant was seen as a major victory for the Rocky Fork region, especially in fighting crime and cleaning up blighted properties. But since the grant hit a snafu, plans have been on hold, including Sheriff Donnie Barrera suspending plans to station a deputy at the lake, although he continues to have the lake area patrolled as often as possible. Other plans for the overall grant have been in limbo.
The grant is scheduled to “term out” in October, although Wilkin said in an earlier interview that an extension was possible if the issues can be resolved.
In other business Wednesday, Wilkin and commissioner Terry Britton accepted the resignation of Heidi Devine as the county recycling outreach specialist effective March 31.
Devine said in her resignation letter that she has “enjoyed the positions and the people I have worked with and for… But I and my husband are looking at new pursuits in both business and recreation.”
Wilkin lauded Devine for doing an excellent job in the role.
In correspondence, the commissioners were notified by the County Risk Sharing Authority that a contract worker filed a claim alleging she was wrongfully terminated from her position as an adoption recruiter last year.
The commissioners also approved routine financial resolutions.
Commissioner Jeff Duncan’s absence was excused.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.