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G'town moving toward sewer plant

November 26, 2008
The Town of Georgetown reached a sought-after settlement agreement with Floyd County on the construction of a wastewater treatment plant and the town council approved the measure Tuesday, Nov. 18, paving the way for the plant to be built on property other than the much-debated O'Brien property, which the town purchased over two years ago.

"We finalized an inter-local agreement with the Floyd County Commissioners and Council," Billy Stewart, town council president, said. "Now, we're going on to the next step — looking at property to build on. At a meeting next month, we'll be giving the New Albany Sewer Board a timeline for building a wastewater treatment plant. The sewer board has been most gracious, and we're hoping to get everything worked out."

The New Albany Sewer Board has asked for a definite timeline on construction of a wastewater facility from Georgetown before it will consider waiving the rate increases and penalties.

Georgetown, which is now hooked on to New Albany's sewage treatment system, is facing a penalty of $450,000 and a substantial rate increase by February, if the town does not begin construction of its own wastewater treatment plant.

Although the O'Brien property could still be used to build the plant and annexation of the property could be completed in December, Floyd County officials favor building a plant on the west side of Georgetown and have offered $1.4 million to help Georgetown with the cost of locating the plant at an unnamed, alternate site west of town.

"We don't know exactly when we will build yet," Stewart said. "We're seeking out property now and some people have come forward and offered land to us."

When one member of the audience asked if the council planned to acquire land by eminent domain, Stewart replied that eminent domain would only be used as a last resort.

"Hopefully, there's enough people out there who are interested in selling land to the town," Stewart said. "The only way we would use eminent domain would be for the public good. We would never use it to build, for instance, a Kentucky Fried Chicken. That wouldn't be for the public good. But a sewage treatment plant would be for the public good."

"We would still have to pay fair market value, if the town took property through imminent domain," Town Attorney D.A. Andrews added. "Eminent domain is sometimes necessary to get things done. Without it, there would be no sewers, roads, electricity, rail roads, schools and airports. Eminent domain is not treating people badly, it's just a lawful and constitutional government function."

"I'd like to thank the Floyd County Commissioners and Council for this agreement," Stewart said, "and for stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing."

In other matters, the town council discussed implementing a salary freeze for town employees and elected officials due to projections of funding shortages in the coming months.

"Newspapers are telling us how bad our economy is now and how it affects city governments and the tax and budget cycle," Stewart said. "State revenue has fallen behind what was projected. The entire state, including cities and towns are facing financial problems. We're in a recession. Our tax dollars come from property, sales and income taxes. If people are laid off, we (the town) will see less coming in. And property values go down in a recession, also. We have a responsibility to the people of Georgetown to make hard decisions, some of which people may not like."

Stewart went on to say that years ago, a previous town council passed an ordinance to give town employees and elected officials a 3-percent wage increase each year.

"But we have to do the prudent thing here," Stewart said. "We have five ordinances drawn up concerning a salary freeze. We can vote on one, or all five."

One of the ordinances, if enacted, would freeze the salaries of elected officials only. Another ordinance would freeze the salaries of elected officials and the two non-elected deputy clerks at the town hall. Another option listed was to freeze the salaries of all town hall employees and elected officials. And there was also a comprehensive freeze that would affect everyone on the town's payroll, including the police department.

"But the clerk-treasurer and chief deputy clerk-treasurer have indicated that they would seek legal action if we freeze their salaries," Stewart said. "It was our idea to give everyone a raise when prudent to do so. But we're now facing a lawsuit and attorney fees."

"Looking at the salaries of the clerk-treasurer and chief deputy — they're making more than school teachers," Councilman Aaron Striegel said. "The clerks where my wife works make $22,000 a year. They're making $38,000 and $37,000 here. But under Indiana law, we cannot lower the clerk's salary from the previous year. If we change the clerk-treasurer's salary, it must be done in 2008. In 2009, the salary is fixed and set by an ordinance."

Stewart said the threat of legal action was received on the day of the meeting (last Tuesday).

"This really upsets me — when I got this information today," Stewart said. "I'm really disappointed in Georgetown government."

"I was unaware that Doug and Kim (clerk-treasurer and chief deputy clerk, respectively) had threatened us with a lawsuit if we freeze their salaries," Striegel said. "This surely doesn't help Georgetown's reputation. This is just petty. I think their salaries are fair. Petty is the best word I can think of. I am really disappointed in the action of the clerk's office."

"A stronger word is 'disgusted'," Stewart added. "I've been willing to sit down with the clerk-treasurer and work out differences. Yesterday, I was in the town hall and he did not speak to me on it (legal action). Now, our dirty laundry is being aired in public. We're all working toward the same goal."

"We need to try to work together," Andrews advised.

The council tabled the issue and agreed to revisit it at a later date.

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