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Oolitic Homes To Be Repaired, Debate Over Walsh Avenue Spurs Emotions
Updated June 24, 2013 10:34 PM | Filed under: Politics
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(OOLITIC) - The Oolitic Town Council opened two bids Monday night from Harold Street Just Right Home Improvement in Loogootee and USA Construction, in Jasonville to make needed improvements to homes in Oolitic.

The companies submitted bids on six houses.

The council voted to take those bids under advisement. The bids will be awarded at the next Town council meeting on July 29 at 6:30 p.m.

The town received funds from the Southern Indiana Development Commission to pay for the repairs.

Homeowners - 55-years-old or older or who suffered with a disability - were chosen through an application process to receive the funds. Six homeowners qualified.

Each family will receive more than $21,000 to make needed repairs that the family could not otherwise afford.

In other business:

* The council passed a resolution to transfer funds in the police department to comply with state board of account regulations.

* Approved a service and licensing agreement with Key Stone Software. The town uses the software in preparing their budget, for billing and payroll.

* Clerk Treasurer Jim Staley told the council he is finalizing the budget and will meet with DLGF on July 30.

* Staley requested approval to advertise for sealed bids to sale the property at the dead end of Welsh Avenue.Bids will be accepted from June 26 until July 3rd.

Councilman Bill Kendall is against selling the property, and was the only one who voted against the sale. But since the board agreed to accept bids, Kendall added that was the only "fair thing to do."

The ownership of the property has spurred a heated debate between the town and Bob and Debra Szemsack, who claimed they owned the property.

The court ruled the town owned the property. Now businessman, Jack Kellams would like to purchase the property to put up a billboard that would face Ind. 37 from both the north and south sides to advertise his Antique Mall on Main Street in Oolitic. The town is now seeking bids to sell the property to the highest qualifying bid.

Bob Szemsack asked the council if the property was zoned residential or busines?. He claims according to town ordinance the property is residential and if Kellams is the highest bidder and the town allows him to place a billboard on the property they will be in violation of state and federal laws and will lose highway funds.

Town Attorney Nathan Nikirk told the council thatzoning was not an issue at this time.

"It really is not an issue before this council," Nikirk says. "The only issue before this council is the sale of the property. The new owner - if Mr. Kellams - would have to deal with the zoning issue."

Szemsack then asked the board why they were selling the property? Which stirred emotions.

"We don't have to sale it," replied Town Council President Delvin Nikirk. "But this board decided that this is what we wanted to do. It (the sale) will put money back into the town and the town has no use for the property."

Szemsack then asked the council if they owned the property why were they not doing the up keep?

"You make everyone else in this town maintain their property, but you are failing to maintain property you now own," Szemsack says. "Why is that?"

Councilmen Kendall and Billy Burnett agreed with Szemsack and asked Street Department Superintendent Rick Hawkins to go and get the property cleaned up.

Hawkins told the council the boundaries were not clearly marked, but he will use the survey and have his crew get on the clean up. He also added it would take some time because of several small tress that would need to be cleared from the property so they could get in there and mow.

Debra Szemsack then voiced her frustrations over the ownership of the property and asked to read a statement to the council.

The following is Debra's statement:

First of all, we want to set the record straight, that it was not proven that Oolitic owned the property named in the Quiet Title Lawsuit. What was proven was the town owned Walsh Avenue before the Ind. 37 was built; at that time, the state took possession, but because of a "technicality" where the state says they failed to inform the Town of Oolitic they were taking it, so they agreed to relinquish it back to the town. Additionally, we had definite interest in the property named in the lawsuit because the state purchased a small piece of property named in the suit from my parents and had a legal covenant for ingress/egress with them and whoever lives at the 106 Walsh Avenue residence forward. We have all the official documentation as proof of the sale transaction and the covenant agreement.

We still question how the Town of Oolitic was able to file a Quiet Title Lawsuit base on the fact that they claim to have maintained the property for more than ten years, when we know for a fact they never touched the property. My dad, more often than not, would have to call Town Hall to ask to have the road plowed when it snowed. Additionally, one of the town ordinances states the town will not interfere with a covenant between parties, but didn't drop the lawsuit even when the state named the covenant with my parents as one of their reasons for filing a motion to dismiss the suit.

We question the fact that you had no record of having voted to file the Quiet Title Lawsuit, but were able to vote on it a year after filing it and then just continue on from there. How you just decide to move forward with the suit even though several citizens of the town, especially those who will be affected the most from the sale of the property, said no. Could it be that Jack Kellams told you to move forward with the suit, which is what he told Bob one day when he stopped by our house shortly after the same meeting?

Bob and I have sat in these meetings for almost a year now and after making attempts at almost every meeting to bring to your attention how we feel about first of all having a town that, not only we, but my parents, grandparents and great grandparents have called home as far back as the late 1800s, file a Quiet Title Lawsuit against us. As if that isn't bad enough, it wasn't "for the good of the town", but to benefit one individual and then to allow him to pay for it no less. The scary part is that you make it seem as though as long as the town isn't pay for it using the taxpayers' money that makes it okay, which makes us wonder about the ethics of this town board.

The Town of Oolitic has let us down; we have heard Delvin say several times in council meetings "we work for you" as citizens of the Town of Oolitic. Instead of protecting our rights as citizens of the Town of Oolitic, we fell like the Town of Oolitic has stabbed us in the back; you have

Ade us feel disrespected and unwanted in our own hometown. Bob and I have gone through an emotional rollercoaster for almost two years now. One minute trying to find another house to make our home, anywhere but Oolitic, then the next deciding we aren't going to give-up everything we have worked for to make a comfortable place to live through our retirement years. We're not in a position at our age to start over. We heard Jim Staley say in reference to sending letters to citizens of the town who are not in compliance with keeping their lawns mowed, that "we don't want to make them leave", but yet, we work hard to have a nice place and the be the best citizens we can be and this is what we get for it.

This council has treated this issue the entire time as if they have blinders on and taking one step at a time until they will see "the right person" buys the Walsh Avenue property. Paulene said it all when she asked, "does he even still want it?' You justify what you've done by saying you only wanted to find out who owned the property. If that were true, then there would be on reason to continue with selling the property. You've known from the get-go what the plan is and the deeper you allow Jack Kellams to reach into his pocket the more indebted to him you are going to be. You don't listen when Bob tells you that you are not out of this once you sell the property. If Jack Kellams buys it, in order for him to file a permit, signed legal documents are required with any zoning ordinances attached that are applicable to the property, someone from the town is going to be perjuring themselves. Are you willing to break state and federal laws and jeopardize losing state and federal funding? And don't kid yourselves, if that is an accident on the highway due to the distractions of the billboard or someone drives down Walsh Avenue too fast and can't stop in time before hitting a huge sign base, a lawsuit will trickle down to the Town of Oolitic because you sold the property and signed all official forms allowing the billboard to be erected.

We feel like every time we say anything about the property issue the town council is just thinking "here we go again." I think all-in-all Bob and I have conducted ourselves very respectable with an issue that is very sensitive; messing with our home and the way you live day-to-day is a huge issue all across the nation; just tune into the news sometime. If you think we are making too much of this whole thing, then why don't you all take off your blinders and put yourself in our shoes and see how you would feel. Why should we have to cover our kitchen window with a blind to keep from looking at an ugly billboard and having its lights shine in at night and early morning and each and every time we step out on our patio or are on the north side of our house have to look at this eyesore? Have you even read the town's nuisance ordinance and in particular the definition of a nuisance, not to mention the safety aspect; why was "billboards' filed under "health and safety" in the town's ordinances - possibly because of the lights, insects, birds and bird droppings?

Our attorney kept telling us all through this entire lawsuit process that this is politics and that if we didn't like it to move, but we just couldn't accept that this sort of goings on could happen in our quaint little hometown Oolitic; I hate to say that he was right. It's going to take a long time, if ever, for us to regain the pride and trust we once had in our town.
P.S. Be prepared, because you may be opening "Pandora's box" there are at least 7 dead-end streets on the east side of Ind. 37 in the town of Oolitic - just perfect for a billboard.

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