Area residents upset over a possible rezoning and land purchase behind to the Jefferson County Highway Garage for storage space addressed the County Council on Tuesday and asked that the county pursue land interests elsewhere.

The 5-acre plot, which is near Meadow Lane and directly next to the highway garage, is being offered to the county by Madison Chemical for $22,500.

Madison Chemical showed plans to the commissioners last week to rezone the area for industrial use, with the exception of a 1-acre plot that borders Meadow Lane. The 1-acre plot would be kept as residential agricultural and used as an emergency exit only. The commissioners also proposed planting trees to help with the visibility issues.

The rezoning would be considered by the City Plan Commission and then the City Council.

County Council members said that contrary to earlier reports and the official meeting minutes, which they did approve Tuesday night, no appropriations have been made for the land acquisition contingent on a rezoning approval.

The board consensus was that it voted during the first meeting of the year to support pursuit of the project, but added that it has not committed any funds at this time.

Councilman Larry Wynn went on to say that no appropriations will be considered until the city reviews the rezoning proposal. In other words, nothing is set in stone.

"I think that's what got everybody stirred up, because they thought it was a done deal," he said.

Councilman Dr. Kevin Britt said the board would have needed to advertise such an appropriation beforehand.

Given the confusion, the council asked for video copies of the meeting to review the minutes and the official vote.  

During the public comments on Tuesday, Bill Barnes - joined by several other Meadow Lane residents - told the council that the effects of a rezoning and potential highway garage lot expansion are "all downsides" for those who live nearby.

He said four new homes were recently constructed in the area, and he estimated that each one costs about $200,000. Barnes said he would expect the rezoning to decrease property values and make the area less desirable.

His neighbors agreed.

"My home is all I've got. Everything is into my home. If you start eating away at it, then I'm going to have nothing," said Virginia Wilson, also a Meadow Lane resident.

The group asked the County Council to reconsider pursuing the project before the City Plan Commission reviews any rezoning requests.

"Once it's rezoned, it's rezoned," Barnes said. "Toothpaste cannot go back into the tube."

After hearing the public comments, County Attorney Wil Goering said it is out of the ordinary to discuss rezoning issues with a board that does not oversee zoning regulations.

"It's really kind of a bizarre thing to even be talking about this," he said.

In addition, Goering said the county could appropriate the money and move forward with the purchase without rezoning the property - a move that has been upheld in the Indiana Supreme Court in the past. But he added that Madison Chemical and the county were presenting the plan publicly with residents and going through the City Plan Commission to be "good neighbors."

Goering also told the council that the commissioners fully understand they would need to ask for an appropriation if the rezoning is approved by the city.

In other business:

• Amber Finnegan, director for the Jefferson County Community Corrections, requested that the council transfer appropriations with the community corrections' budget for drug-screening and electronic monitoring expenses. She said the program has seen a great increase in users over the past year. The money would be transferred from the community corrections' project income account, which contains nearly $80,000.

The council said the transfer would first need to be advertised before approval.

Council President Bill Hensler also asked Finnegan if the electronic monitoring has been a successful program for offenders. She said about 70 percent of the users do comply with the program's guidelines.

• The council unanimously approved a pay increase for the county's WIC clerk, though the raise is contingent on state approval. All county WIC personnel expenses are reimbursed 100 percent by the state, said councilman Joe Craig.

Tammy Monroe, health administrator, said the WIC clerk has been with the program for 18 years.

New Hope Services will take over the federally and state funded WIC program later this year, though the details are still being worked out. Monroe said she just received the company's transitional plan last week.

Last year, the county lost the bidding process with the state to run the local program this year.  

• Monroe also reported that the health department HVAC is currently being replaced.