County lake developments continue to be torrid topic

Staff reporter

The beginning of Monday's Marion County Commission meeting began with a bang when a Marion County Lake resident asked the commission for information regarding the proposed development.

Gordon Pendergraft, with a copy of the trailer park lease agreement in hand, asked the commission if a lease had been signed with Jim and Debra Whitfill. The commission responded, "no."

Pendergraft continued that he did not own a trailer in the county's mobile home park but was an interested party. Reading from the trailer park lease document, Pendergraft said trailer owners are limited to the number of days and nights they can stay.

"Would the cabin owners be required to abide by the same rules?" Pendergraft asked.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said the cabins would have their own meters which will be installed at the expense of the Whitfills, which was the reason the county does not allow trailer owners to spend more than a total of two weeks per year. Currently the county pays for all utilities to the mobile homes.

Pendergraft continued reading from the agreement: "'No sub-leasing or renting of trailers.' Can I rent out my trailer?"

"This is a commercial enterprise," commissioner Dan Holub responded.

Pendergraft then asked what benefit there would be to the community? What's to preclude someone from renting a cabin all winter?

"Why wouldn't we want them to?" Holub asked. He explained that the trailers in the mobile home park are for private use and the cabins are a commercial venture.

Pendergraft continued that the only metal buildings are allowed by the trailers because of termites. He noted that the cabins were going to be wood structures.

"You're allowing county-owned property for a private, commercial business," he said.

"The City of Marion has lease purchase arrangements," Holub said. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have the same type of business."

Pendergraft said the size of the Corps lakes are much different than the size of the county lake.

"The lake hall is not leaseable for five months out of the year," Holub said, and it is difficult to cool in the summer because of the lack of insulation.

The Whitfills have offered to insulate the north half. The $50 per day lease rent that the Whitfills are willing to pay will offset the cost of insulating the south half, Holub said.

"Contrary to headlines in the newspaper, nothing has changed regarding the renting of the south half of the lake hall. The north half will be available in the evenings," he said.

Holub continued that nothing was going away.

"My telephone and e-mail have exploded," he said.

Pendergraft asked Holub if the public outcry was an indication that the public didn't want the county to do this development.

"People have been misled," Dallke said.

Half of the lake hall is still available to rent and the other half is available in the evenings, he said. The Whitfills' equipment will be locked up in the kitchen with the remainder of the building being available.

"It's the same as the City of Marion's spec building," Dallke said. "We happen to have a building available and that's why we're doing this."

Pendergraft said if he was a public official, he would be concerned and do more research.

Verlan Biggs, a trailer owner, asked if the county would want to use the land where his trailer is setting for future developments. Dallke responded that as long as the trailers continue to be used and maintained, that won't change.

"The original intention was to put these cabins by the heated dock but decided not to because it would take a $35,000 sewer pump for that to work," Holub said. "I have no intention of pushing out the trailers."

Dallke suggested language be included in the lease agreement that future commissions cannot use the trailer area to expand.

He continued that the only way lot rent would increase is if utilities and maintenance costs increased. Dallke said the commission would like to see individual meters for the mobile homes but there's an expense to doing so.

"If you pay our own utilities, why wouldn't someone want to stay 365 days a year?" Dallke asked.

"If I'm paying for my own utilities, I can't see paying $1,000 per year for lot rent," Billy English said.

English also asked about an area that used to be allowed for boat storage for those who had a trailer. Now the county is charging rent for the storage space. English asked if the county was responsible for stolen items from his boat. The response was the county was not.

Later in the meeting, Holub defended his position regarding the lake development.

He said it was perfectly legal for the county to rent county property for a commercial enterprise. The county is paying for the survey but the Whitfills are paying for all of the improvements.

"They (the Whitfills) want a restaurant at the lake," Holub continued. "They have made several offers on the former Kingfisher Steak House and Lounge but have not been able to come to terms."

What's in it for the citizens of Marion County?

"We have a lake hall that is rented six or seven months out of the year. The north half will be rentable year-round. The south half will be insulated at no cost to the county.

"Currently, there is nothing to keep me from going to the lake and renting the hall every day. It's first come, first serve. Reservations are being honored. The building is available for fund-raisers."

Holub continued that the development is more of a tax relief than economic development. Taxes will be paid on the cabins. If cabins are built, why not rent them out year round? It's a place to rent and stay.

"Call it what you want - a cabin or motel," Holub said.

He continued that this project has been in the works for two years. The real heroes of economic development, and often overlooked, are the investors. The county also will receive three percent of the gross profit.

"This is a serious business," Holub said.

In other lake business:

— Lake superintendent Steve Hudson reported that Greg Norton of Canton had delivered 11 fish habitats which have been placed near docks. A map of the habitat locations is available at the lake office.

— A fishing derby on March 22 already has 11 competitors and plenty of volunteers, Hudson said. The competition is limited to the first 30 entries since it will be at the heated dock. Proceeds from the derby will be used to purchase new benches at the dock.

Currently fishermen sit on the edge of the theatre-type seating.

The commission approved the purchase of 12 benches for a total of $3,711.

— Hudson reported that 48 of the 57 trailer owners have produced proof of insurance. He also has one mobile home owner who wants to replace the older structure with a new trailer.

— Holub said he wanted to set up a public meeting to take comments about trailer park rules at the lake. Hudson said he was reluctant to make major changes since he still had two cases of the current brochure available for distribution.