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G'town tackles slew of issues at special meeting

February 06, 2008
In a busy special meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, the Georgetown Town Council considered action on everything from the sidelined sewage treatment plant to Broadband Internet service.

The council first acted on an ordinance to assign ownership of the town's public utilities to the town council.

"What this ordinance says is that the new utility council is the town council," Billy Stewart, council president, said.

The council then voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance.

The council then discussed an ordinance concerning the bonding for the proposed sewage treatment plant and granting approval to apply for permits or renew permits for the construction of the plant. The council also discussed its intention to build the plant on 23 acres the town owns just off Old Georgetown Road, known as the O'Brien property.

"The town can't move forward with bonds until a fixed site has been determined for the sewage treatment plant," Clerk-Treasurer Doug Cook said.

Town Attorney Jim Montgomery confirmed Cook's statement, saying, "You can't bond it without a specific location."

The ordinance was voted on and passed. Mike Mills cast the only no vote on the issue.

But the council didn't put all its eggs in one basket, even though the discussion seemed to center around renewing efforts to build on the O'Brien property.

"Next month, some us are meeting with the Harrison County sewer council," Stewart announced. "We'll see what happens."

Harrison County has been considering building a new sewage treatment plant in the northern part of the county and has expressed an interest in Georgetown joining the project. The former Georgetown council did not favor the partnership, often expressing concerns about who would be in charge of the facility and thinking that, much like the present sewage contract the town has with New Albany, Georgetown would be vulnerable to rate increases beyond its control.

There will be a meeting of the Harrison County sewer council on Friday, and the matter may be discussed in more detail then.

The town council then discussed an ordinance that would allow it to begin construction of the sewage treatment plant.

"This ordinance authorizes us to build a sewage plant," Stewart said. "The utility works council, formed today, will oversee the plant, and the sewage rates will stay the same. In a nutshell, this ordinance allows us to build on the O'Brien property. This doesn't mean we're going to build now, but we plan to build on the property."

"This ordinance has to be in place before they can move forward," Montgomery added. "They will need this if they decide to build."

Councilman Aaron Striegel, after stating the deadlines the town has with New Albany, insisted that the town had to act on the sewage issue.

"It will cost the town $1.8 million if we do nothing," Striegel said. "Plus, the rates will go up 33 percent. We have become a retail customer with New Albany, not wholesale. We have no say in what our rates are going to be.

"For $1.6 million, we can build a plant. If we don't build, it'll cost $1.8 million. It's too late to just do nothing. It's like arguing that your sister got pregnant. The baby is coming anyway. We have to do something."

"If I understand correctly, you're planning on building on the O'Brien property," said Nancy Foxworthy, who was in the audience.

Stewart answered that the ordinance gives the town the authority to get the ball rolling.

"That is still in court litigation," Foxworthy added.

"The annexation is in litigation, not the wastewater treatment plant," Stewart answered. "Annexation is not required by law. To do nothing would be a disservice to the town. It doesn't matter anymore — there's no use to argue. We're moving forward."

The council then voted on the issue. Three members voted for the ordinance, but Karla Perkins and Mills voted no. It required four votes to pass on the first reading, and the ordinance failed.

In other business, Montgomery informed the council that the town was still owed $39,000 by Haas Oil Company for a gas spill that happened at an area gas station in 2003.

"In December 2007, the trial court moved to dismiss the case," Montgomery said. "There was no objection from the former town council. I filed request with the Floyd Superior Court to reopen the case, but I need the board's approval to proceed legally. We need to pursue it or agree that it's a dead issue."

The council voted and agreed to allow Montgomery to proceed with legal action against Haas Oil.

The council then discussed the issue of more than 200 citizens who are violating the ordinance of garbage can size in the town. The original ordinance, adopted in 2004, cited can size limits at 44 gallons. The council agreed that to allow 45 gallon cans would be reasonable. However, Public Works Director Jim Reynolds suggested putting that as a limit, and that 50 gallon cans were almost too much for workers to lift, when they have to lift cans all day.

The council agreed to explore solutions and give residents adequate notice in case of any changes in the ordinance.

The council also discussed the current contract with Discernity for Broadband Internet service. The town now has a little over 70 customers, and is being billed $8,300 a month for service by Discernity. So far, many areas who were first assumed to be within range of the towers haven't been able to take advantage of the service. Therefore, the town has had some difficulty building the customer base needed to make the utility profitable.

"They had a choice when they first started this project," said Jon Gerry, who is working for the town to correct the problem. "They could choose a bunch of little towers or one big one. They chose a bunch of little ones."

But that choice limited the amount of customers that could be reached. After the town took out a $200,000 loan for the project, the former town manager insisted that the town could break even with 200 customers, but information was found recently that indicated the number needed to break even was around 420 customers.

The council discussed trying to negotiate the town out of the deal, indicating a belief that Discernity had defaulted on its contract.

"All the information on the contract is not in the files," Montgomery said. "When the former council requested arbitration, Discernity didn't respond and neither did (the former town attorney). It's rather puzzling. This is really a one-sided contract — and not in Georgetown's favor.

"I'm assuming you (the council) want me to do something on this. Legally, they have defaulted on the contract. Discernity has indicated a buy-out of about $292,000. (The town has offered a buy-out amount of) $58,000, and they're still billing the town for $8,300 a month. This contract could cost the town a half a million dollars over five years."

The council voted to allow Montgomery to initiate contact with Discernity.

"It's a shame," Gerry said. "It was so close to working."

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