Rezoning and purchasing a 5-acre plot right in the backyard of the Jefferson County Highway Garage would be a cost-efficient solution to the department's storage needs, the Board of Commissioners said Thursday.

But the problem is that several property owners in the area also consider the plot to be in their backyards.

Nearby Meadow Lane residents told the commissioners at Thursday's meeting that the proposal to rezone the land from agricultural residential to light industrial would decrease property values and create potential eyesores and noise issues.

The land acquisition from Madison Chemical would cost $22,500. The land would be used to store county equipment and a portion of the county's cinder stockpile. The city zoning board and then the city council must first approve the rezoning. The Jefferson County Council agreed to fund the deal earlier this month.  

The homeowners said they purchased their houses knowing that Madison Chemical and the county garage were close, but they argued that such a rezoning would be unfair or like "changing the rules halfway through the game."

Commissioners president Tom Pietrykowski started the meeting by noting that the county technically should not discuss the deal because nothing is set in stone. However, he said the board wanted to pitch its new proposal for the land and hear feedback.

In addition to the 5-acre plot that could be sold to the county, Madison Chemical President Dick Goodman said the company also would attempt to rezone another 5 acres of land near the highway garage for its own industrial purposes.

As part of the plan with the county, Goodman said Madison Chemical would request that 1 acre of land that fronts Meadow Lane stay zoned as agricultural residential, while the remaining 4 acres be rezoned from agricultural residential to light industrial.

The reason for the separate zoning would be to add a buffer between the Meadow Lane residents and the highway department, he said. In addition, the commissioners said the county would plant trees along Meadow Lane to obstruct from any potential eyesores for homeowners. An easement to Meadow Lane also would be put in for emergency purposes, not for machinery or highway garage traffic.

"We're trying to be responsive to what we've heard from the residents," Goodman said. "And we're trying to be good neighbors."

Bill Barnes, who lives on Meadow Lane, worried that the commissioners had already made up their minds to move forward with the deal without addressing residents.    

"As a voter, I expect you to consider us and consider the impact on us before making deals with Madison Chemical or any other partner," he said.

Barnes said while he appreciated that the board and Madison Chemical is looking at ways to "lessen the harmful effects," he is still convinced that the plan ultimately would lower property values.

"I think you're so focused on getting this done that you're not putting yourselves in our shoes," he said.

Barnes, joined by several other residents, asked the board to scrap the purchase plans and look for property elsewhere that is marked for industrial use.

Pietrykowski said the most enticing aspect of the potential deal is the location and price, which could not be matched by industrial sites the county had considered in the past. He said the county highway department is currently storing machinery at the fairgrounds and leasing private land for its cinder pile. 

Barnes' wife, Stacy, said she was concerned that the 1-acre section facing Meadow Lane could be rezoned again down the road, perhaps if the highway department leaves and an industrial prospect enters.

She also said her family, along with other residents, bought their homes fully aware of the close proximity of the highway garage and Madison Chemical, however, they did not foresee that a site even closer would be rezoned for industrial use.

"We hear you now in the earliest morning hours, but we knew that when we moved there, so we can't complain about that. ... But this is different. This is changing the rules halfway through the game," Stacy Barnes said.

In other business:

• Treasurer Linda Greene reported that the county has $15.9 million between all of its funds, which currently leaves the county a surplus of almost $500,000.

"Jefferson County is in pretty good shape, financially," she reported.   Greene also reported that the county's investments gained more than $155,000 in interest last year, which was down about $5,000 from 2011. She said in June, River Valley Financial Bank stopped offering the 1 percent interest rate and changed to a 0.75 interest rate.

Greene said the county currently deals with MainSource and River Valley banks, but she said the county has been approached by Farmers Bank of Milton, which recently opened a Madison location. They, too, offered a 0.75 interest rate, and the commissioners advised Greene to spread out the funds between the three banks.

Also during the finance hearing, Commissioner Bob Little was elected the president for the board of finance for 2013.  

• The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department has been monitoring the trash pickup sites in the county. The commissioners said residents have been using the sites without first obtaining a county trash card.

Sheriff John Wallace also said he is addressing and monitoring dumping sites across the county, as well.

Residents must present a trash card before using the county's six drop-off sites. The cards are available for $35 at the Courthouse.

• Veterans Affairs Director Joe DeVito gave his annual report to the commissioners, noting that Jefferson County veterans received an increase in pensions and benefits from 2011 to 2012. Last year, the state paid out more than $875,000 in pensions, he said. In addition, Devito said his department was able to trim its budget for 2013.