During the June meeting of the Marshall County Council, members unanimously voted to deny the additional appropriation request of County Plan Director Ty Adley.  Adley sought an additional $1,350 in the Board of Zoning Appeals budget and $1,500 in the Plan Commission budget for printing and advertising along with a request for an additional $6,000 for legal services in the Plan Commission budget.

The council had tabled his request during their May meeting and asked him to attend the June meeting to explain the request.  Adley told council members his department needed to expand their advertising details of upcoming meetings in the newspaper.  The expanded advertisements are larger and there are more, which has caused a shortfall in his advertising budget.  Adley said the cost is two to three times higher.  The increase needed for legal services is because Adley has had to use their attorney much more on the solar and battery ordinance discussions plus he has attended several meetings to make sure everything is being handled legally.

Council president Jesse Bohannon commented that the Plan Commission and BZA have seen a lot of additional activity in the last 6 months, so these items budgeted for this year are pretty much exhausted at this point.

Adley said, “Yes.  We went through and robbed Peter to pay Paul to make our last series of claims work out.  If we aren’t successful tonight I kind of question how much we are going to be able to accomplish for the next 6 months.”   

Speaking on behalf of himself, Bohannon said, “I do have some concerns with what’s been going on in planning and with the way that industrial solar has marched forward despite the massive amount of public feedback against that.  Obviously, you are just doing your job.  I hate that you are put into this position, but I do get the sense that the will of the council is to exercise our statutory authority to do what we can to let the people’s will be done in the planning process.”  Bohannon then asked if issuance of an industrial solar permit requires action by the Board of Zoning Appeals and Adley said it is a special use in an Agricultural District and would need their approval. 

Councilman Jim Masterson commented, “We don’t want to stymie what’s going on with the Plan Commission and the BZA if this is money that is going to go for other projects, other than solar.”  He said if the money has been given to the county for a Plan Commission or BZA meetings there is an obligation to take care of it.  Masterson said, “We don’t want to stop any growth in the county because of what is ever on our personal agenda whether you like it or not.”     

President Bohannon asked their financial consultant, Steve Dalton from Cender Dalton Financial to attend the meeting along with their legal counsel Marcel Lebbin.  Bohannon said, “My goal is to exercise our powers in as delicate and finessed sort of way as possible to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer with the council’s statutory powers.”  He asked for options to allow the county Plan Commission and BZA to proceed with normal business while simultaneously denying the ability of solar to move forward.

The council’s legal counsel said, “You can figure out what projects you want to move forward and projects you don’t want to move forward and the extent you want to fund area planning and the BZA.” 

Financial consultant Steve Dalton said, “Once a budget is approved for a department they can spend it for any legal purpose of their department.  You are not going to be able to pick and choose which advertisement BZA runs and which meeting they call the Plan Commission because they have other legitimate business purposes.” He thought the council took all the advertising and legal dollars from the BZA & Planning budgets and put them in the council’s budget then they could approve the individual advertisements and legal expenses.

The Council has $200,000 in special projects but the county auditor requires the advertising and legal to be in their line items and funds for transparency purposes.   

Councilman Tim Harman asked Adley where the county is in the process of solar.  He said, “Those of us strongly opposed to solar and ran on opposing solar would like to do something.  We’d like to keep our promises to the public.  I believe the public is adamantly opposed to this in general.  You’re going to have most likely next year a unanimous consent amongst the council and commissioners to stop solar.”   Harman asked if solar can still move forward this year and Adley said they can apply even though we don’t have the road use and decommissioning agreement finalized yet. 

At that point, Bohannon said, “Whatever action, if we decide to take some action tonight to put some chains on this process could be reversed immediately as soon as the commissioner enact a moratorium.”

As the conversations continued, Councilman Will Paterson asked if the commissioners had funds to pay for the advertising and legal costs for the BZA and Plan Commission and asked if they could freeze the commissioner’s budget to stop any funding to approve solar.  The financial consultant said they have funds, but you could make it more difficult for Ty to get money although he might be able to find a line in the commissioner’s fund to pay for it. 

Attorney Lebbin said, “We just don’t do any advertising for anything that is not an application from a petitioner. No advertising unless it is the property owner.”  This could be the council’s way to stop special projects such as industrial solar or battery energy storage systems.

After much discussion council president, Jesse Bohannon asked the council to consider the recommendation made by Dalton to create an advertising and legal line item with $3,000 in each line in the council’s budget and not fund the additional request of Adley for the Plan Commission and BZA.  Councilwoman Nicole Cox made the motion, and it was seconded by Adam Faulstich.  The vote was unanimous. 

The council will create the funds and place funding in the line items at the July meeting unless the commissioners enact a moratorium on solar.