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Money still available for park trails

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By Robin Bass

Kentucky State Parks Commissioner Gerry van der Meer met with local horse owners Monday night to discuss what remains of a $100,000 grant that was intended for trails at Taylorsville Lake State Park.

The grant was presented to Taylorsville Lake State Park by former Governor Ernie Fletcher in August 2007. Its purpose was to renovate existing trails and begin the expansion of the park’s recreational trail system.

Now with a June 1 deadline looming, local trails activists are questioning how the remaining money will be spent.

 “You have our support in equine trails,” van der Meer reassured members of the Spencer County Trails Association.

The commissioner told the group that former park manager Brian Pharis kept good records – records which show that $90,000 of the grant was spent and that all but $10,000 of that amount was used for the trails.

Van der Meer said prior to Pharis leaving his duties at the park, the tourism cabinet conducted an audit. The inspection revealed that Pharis may have spent the $10,000 on having asphalt installed for a purpose other than trail use.

The commissioner told the group that any expenditures found spent on areas of the park not approved by the grant, “we’re going to eat that,” and that they could be confident in knowing that $20,000 would still be available for trail repairs.

“They’re (Tourism Cabinet) doing everything they can to get it straightened out and get the project going again,” said Jerry Hancock, a board member of the trails group.

Pharis resigned from his position at the park in a letter addressed to the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet dated Feb. 26.

Misty Dugger Judy, personnel counsel for the Office of Legal Affairs confirmed in March that the tourism cabinet was conducting an administrative investigation into the operations at Taylorsville Lake State Park.

Seasonal employee Roseann Smith told the Spencer Magnet that she and other park employees were questioned about various park procedures earlier this year. Among the long list of topics discussed, Smith was asked if she had any knowledge of state credit cards being used for personal purchases; if any time cards had been falsified; and if she knew of any misappropriation of grant funds intended for trail improvement at the park.

Van der Meer would not comment about the investigation Monday night and referred all questions to the legal office.

Judy did not respond to a phone call to her office as of press time Tuesday afternoon.

The Spencer Magnet resubmitted an open records request. The request was hand-delivered to the commissioner and asked for the following:

• Information pertaining to an internal investigation performed by the Kentucky Department of Parks into the operations at Taylorsville Lake State Park.

• Any conclusions, recommendations or penalties associated with that investigation.

• Documentation pertaining to any misuse or misappropriation of funds at Taylorsville State Park.

• Credit card statements revealing any personal, unauthorized, or inappropriate purchases.

• Records of how grant funding intended for the multi-use trails at the park was spent and the amount and location of any remaining balances.

• Time card records of Taylorsville Lake State Park employees that may reveal inaccurate time-keeping or falsifying of time cards.