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CITY COUNCIL: Dispute over land status gets feisty

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By Linda Ireland

A Hodgenville couple received a green light Monday from Hodgen­ville City Council to begin building a house on Fairview Drive.
That sounds simple enough – but to Bobby and Bonnie Wright, it has proven to be one aggravation after another.
The Wrights planned to give a granddaughter an acre of land to build a home. In September, they contacted Land of Lincoln Planning and Zoning to have the property zoned from agriculture to residential.
The PZ board recommended the request be approved but before it was finalized, it had to be approved by either City Council or LaRue Fiscal Court.
PZ administrator Bud Ireland consulted the most recent map of the city as he was preparing the paperwork and found the property was within city limits.
That came as news to the Wrights who have thought for decades that they were in the county.
Bobby Wright told council members that he never had paid city taxes and his daughter, whose home has a sewer hookup, never had paid a sewer bill.
“We would like to know how you all done this behind our backs,” he said.
Mayor Terry Cruse said the property was annexed by the city in 1969, which was before the Wrights purchased the land. The new map was prepared after a state law dealing with insurance premiums mandated it, 2007-09.
Surveyor Mark Salsman, who plotted the maps, said “every city in the state of Kentucky has gone through this.”
The city’s earlier map from 1980 was actually an “urban growth map” from the Department of Transportation.
“It was incorrect and had to be built from the ground up,” Salsman said.
City Clerk MaDonna Hornback provided documentation of the annexation that had been approved in LaRue Circuit Court. The document was stored in the Department of Archives in Frankfort, she said.
Cruse said he, along with everyone else involved thought the Wright’s property was outside the city limits.
“Nobody tried to pull anything over anyone’s eyes,” he said.
Council member Bonni Clark asked why the Wrights weren’t notified.
“I think they’ve been done an injustice,” she said.
Hornback said information about the new maps, which showed the Wright’s property was in city limits, was published through a legal notice placed in The LaRue County Herald News.
Tax on the property was overlooked by city hall and the property valuation office until last month.
He said there is a possibility that the Wrights would be liable for back taxes.
Councilman Eudell Stearman said he didn’t think that would be the right thing to do.
“We didn’t know it, they didn’t know it,” Stearman said. “I think we should start from now and go forward” on taxes and sewer fees.
Cruse said he didn’t know if the fees and taxes can be “waived legally” and he would have Hornback and City Attorney Mary Gaines Locke check into it. He said he is willing “to work with” the Wrights.
Council members James Phelps Jr. and Woodie Handley agreed with Stearman with Handley saying that it “needs to be checked out right away.”
“It needs to be done now,” Handley said.
Cruse said there was time as the next council meeting is a month away.
The exchange escalated with Cruse saying, “Chief,” evidently asking for Police Chief Steve Johnson’s intervention.
“You put me out, it’s gonna be a lot of trouble,” Handley said.
“Well, it can be,” Cruse responded.
Phelps suggested the group “move on” and the council agreed.
They moved on to the matter of the Wrights’ rezoning. The council agreed to rezone the property with Handley abstaining.