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Wastewater rate worries put on hold (temporarily)

June 24, 2009
Georgetown residents who have been expecting an increase in their sewer bills can breathe a little easier for at least a couple of months after a meeting called by the Floyd County Board of Commissioners allowed residents to have their say, and Georgetown and New Albany Sewer Board officials put the projected increases on hold.

The town hall-type meeting June 17, at Georgetown Elementary School, was called by the commissioners to give residents an opportunity to voice their opinions, and about 100 residents showed up to do just that.

Last month, the New Albany Sewer Board voted to impose a significant increase in sewer rates on Georgetown residents after an agreed time limit had been reached for Georgetown to build its own plant. But the sewer board agreed, at a recent New Albany City Council meeting, to postpone the increase for at least 60 days.

One resident, Calvin Schindler, commented, "This seems like the first step in a plan to provide a countywide sewer system."

Commissioner Steve Bush responded, "It is not our intention to have a countywide sewer system. This (meeting) is just to help the residents of Georgetown."

The commissioners went on to explain why they have become involved in the issue.

"From 2005 till now, inquiries about where a new sewer plant should go shows that the west side of town is the best place for it," Commissioner Chuck Freiberger said. "We got involved because we were aware that the west side was best."

"At no point did New Albany tell Georgetown, 'We want you off our system.' Georgetown wanted off," Commissioner Mark Seabrook added. "It needs to be very clear, it was never our intention to get involved in this. But we're trying to help."

When one resident commented that the issue was "too complicated and too expensive" and went on to suggest that Georgetown should remain with New Albany, Seabrook ex-plained that New Albany had renovated the Robert E. Lee pumping station and the adjoining pipes.

"If Georgetown had stayed on our system, we would have needed to up-size the sewer pipes for sewer flow," Seabrook said.

He went on to say that, after the agreement with Georgetown, New Albany didn't increase the size of the pipes.

"We thought you would be on your own system," Seabrook added.

"To turn back now would be detrimental," Bush said.

Billy Stewart, president of the Georgetown Town Council, added that a previous town board had a choice: to stay with New Albany or build their own plant.

"For long-term growth, it will be better for the town to build its own plant," Stewart said. "Now, it seems like separate governments are going in separate directions. But if the county and the town can get on the same page, it's amazing what we could accomplish. We should be self-sufficient, but not to the point that it will cause pain. We have a cost of about $100,000 a month to operate our present system and that cost is spread around 1,200 homes. We're paying on a $1.8 million bond, and we have an antique sewer system."

When asked if Georgetown would force residents to hook on to the town's system if a new plant is built, Stewart responded that the town would not mandate it.

"Yes, I guess we could, but we won't," Stewart said. "But if you're on a septic system and that system fails, you'll have two options: go with our system or move. But if we wanted to force people to hook up to our system, we could do that now. The law is up to us."

"There's a lot of fears about forcing people to hook on," D.A. Andrews, Georgetown town council attorney, added. "But it's so expensive to build sewer lines. It's a math problem. You can't afford to run lines all over the county in hopes of picking up a couple of houses."

Georgetown recently passed ordinances to seek appraisals on three different pieces of property on the west side of the town. One resident asked what the time frame would be to build a plant, once the property was purchased.

"It will take 12 to 18 months to build," Andrews said. "That's depending on reasonable site conditions. It's a federal process. Get the initial appraisals out and allow about a week to get them back. The town will hold a hearing before making an offer."

When asked if there was a plan in place to build a plant, would the sewage rates stay the same, Bush replied that "negotiations are ongoing, and there will be a meeting on it next week."

"If New Albany is given a plan — where the plant will be located and so on — then it could be that rates will stay the same," Freiberger offered.

"But that's not really our decision," Seabrook added. "That will have to be worked out by New Albany and Georgetown."

When asked if there would be any restitution for those whose property values decreased if the plant was built near them, Rick Fox, attorney for the commissioners, responded, "No."

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