published Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Marion County officials seek end to county line dispute

Ryan Lewis/Correspondent and Ben Benton/Staff Writer
The Thunder Ridge subdivision entrance gate is in Marion County, Tenn, but Franklin County contends that the lots in the gated community are on its side of the county line.
The Thunder Ridge subdivision entrance gate is in Marion County, Tenn, but Franklin County contends that the lots in the gated community are on its side of the county line.

JASPER, Tenn. -- The dispute over the certified line between Marion and Franklin counties has dragged on for more than a decade.

Last week, Marion County officials said they want the matter settled once and for all.

"We've sat around and talked about it for 11 years," County Commissioner Gene Hargis said. "I've got about two years left on this board, and we need to do something to make it right."

Marion County Mayor John Graham said "pressure is mounting again" from the disputed area's residents and developers to come to a resolution.

Last year, officials had hoped the issue would be resolved in a court case involving a property owner who was taxed by both counties. Marion County won the case in May 2011, but Franklin County appealed the ruling about 30 days later.

"In some sense, [the judge] ruled on the line, but he kind of skirted around that issue," Marion County Attorney Billy Gouger said. "He found another way to rule in favor of Marion County [without directly addressing the line dispute]."

Marion officials said the state is supposed to notify them 30 days before the appeal hearing, but they have received no indication that it will happen anytime soon.

In the original hearing last year, Franklin County officials said they had evidence supporting their opinion from the state archives, which held research on the dispute from the 1990s.

"[Those documents] haven't changed, so I don't know what it is," Gouger said. "They haven't disclosed what that 'new information' is."

Franklin County officials say they're relying on a line drawn in 1968 as the official north-south boundary.

Franklin County Attorney Ben Lynch said the 1968 map line was recognized by both counties until recent years. He said the "new information" Marion officials refer to in the county's appeal before the Tennessee Board of Equalization relates to the "second surveyor's district line."

"That's what the original public act that established the county line said we were supposed to follow," Lynch said. "Nobody knew where that was until recently the surveyors found some information in the state archives that referred to the 'second surveyor's district line' and also other information that seemed to help them locate where the line should be."

That line is farther east of the 1968 line on Marion County's side, he said.

"There's about five or six different lines that are involved here," he said. "But our position is the '68 line should be the one that has to be recognized because that was assigned by the state Board of Equalization and has been followed by both counties until the development issue came up."

Franklin County Mayor Richard Stewart and Property Assessor Phillip Hayes say the counties need to reach a compromise to settle the issue.

"I think probably everybody would like to see it resolved," Hayes said Thursday.

Though the dispute involves developments on about 4,700 mountaintop acres, Stewart said little is at stake except planning and development oversight and how to provide services such as fire, police and public works.

Franklin Planning Director and Building Commissioner Mark Dudley said the situation is unfair to landowners.

"We have one house that is 100 percent final, constructed in the disputed area," Dudley said. "In early August, I notified a gentleman ... that he was building without a permit. I noticed that there was a stop-work order on this same property" issued by Marion County.

"That building is constructed under a false pretense, in my view," he said.

Marion Commissioner Hargis said it's time for the matter to end.

"I think we need to make some calls to our legislators to get this thing on the ball," he said.

Graham said a committee will investigate the issue and make a recommendation to the County Commission.

"We need to make a determination that this is what we say the county line is," he said.

Gouger said the line dispute complicates things including criminal jurisdiction, criminal prosecution, planning and voting.

"It doesn't affect a whole lot of people at this point, but as this county grows and Franklin County grows, it's going to impact things even more," he said.

Stewart said once county officials reach an agreement, the matter will be presented to their respective county commissions, then sent to the Tennessee General Assembly for a public act to make it official.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

Contact Ryan Lewis at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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