Georgetown addresses train crossing concerns
By Mike Arnold, Contributing Writer
The Georgetown Town Council, for the second time in three months, addressed residents’ concerns about trains blocking crossings for extended periods.
Brookstone Subdivision resident Keith Dempster approached the council during its regular meeting Nov. 16, pointing out what he believes are safety issues and other inconveniences created when Norfolk-Southern Railway trains block the crossing at Baylor-Wissman Road. Dempster claimed he had observed trains occasionally stalled there for as long as four to five hours. He inquired if there was any agreement between the railroad and the town with respect to blocking of crossings.
Town council president Chris Loop said no pact between the railroad and the town exists and council members are aware of the issue. He said the town has spoken with Norfolk-Southern and he and town attorney Kristi Fox also met with Floyd County officials to discuss the matter; however, no solution emerged.
Loop recommended Dempster and any other Brookstone residents reach out to the offices of Indiana’s United States Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, as well as U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, in hopes they may be able to assist. Loop noted that would likely be the town’s next step as well, with long-term plans to pursue possible grant-funding options to address the crossings.
Police Chief Travis Speece said his department regularly monitors the crossings and noted Indiana formerly had on its books a long-standing regulation that limited the amount of time a train could block a crossing.
That statute also prescribed a $200 fine for violation, Loop added.
However, a 2018 Indiana Supreme Court decision found the statute presented an impediment to commerce and stripped local governments’ authority to enforce the law, making the situation more complex.
Dempster suggested the town might wish to pursue some type of plan, possibly with a notification system, to alert residents when crossings are blocked for an extended period of time. He pointed to instances, where he said school buses had to be rerouted due to a blocked crossing. In addition, he mentioned emergency personnel response times, which could be extended due to a blocked crossing.
“There’s definitely safety concerns here,” Dempster, who was also provided with a copy of the state statute, per his request, said.
In another matter, the council revisited the sealed bid sale of a 2014 Dodge Charger police vehicle, conducted at its Oct. 18 meeting. The town received one bid for $3,800 from Ringwood Motors of Ringwood, Ill. Also at that meeting, the council passed a resolution declaring the vehicle, which Speece said was unmarked and had been cleared of all police equipment, surplus property and moved forward with plans to sell to Ringwood Motors.
Speece reported to the council that Ringwood Motors, a dealership north of Chicago, informed the town it did not wish to purchase the car and would not take possession of it.
The council and Fox discussed options to conduct another sealed bid sale of the vehicle.
“I don’t even know if the statute contemplates that,” Fox said, referring to a potential buyer electing not to complete terms of a sale after securing a winning bid.
Fox said she would draft another ordinance for the vehicle’s sale for review at the December meeting.
Speece and the council agreed a $2,000 reserve was appropriate for the second attempt to sell.
Town engineer Bob Woosley briefed the council on recent progress at the Lakeland sewer system project.
The town took over the Lakeland system earlier this year and work commenced to correct infiltration issues.
Woosley said several milestones have been completed and expects the line replacement segment to conclude soon. There have been a few instances where rock was hit, which could lead to an additional charge for rock removal, he said; however, he noted prior issues with locating two connections were resolved.
“When it’s all said and done, we’ll have a real nice, clean, tight system,” Woosley added.
Woosley also discussed two issues observed at the town’s sewer plant, resulting in two different types of leaks. The first, he said, involved a leaking air valve in the digester, which was repaired with a new stainless steel fitting. The second involves leaks causing liquid to weep from the tank walls.
Woosley said the plant’s building contractor is aware of the tank leaks and should be able to correct. In addition, a coating engineer will be consulted to offer an opinion on the best way to address. He also mentioned a problem with a blower at the plant had been eliminated and added none of the issues he noted were hampering the plant’s efficiency.
In another matter related to the town’s sewer utility, Loop mentioned the possibility the town might want to consider entering an agreement with a company to maintain its lift stations. He offered as an example Aqua Utility Systems, which for a monthly fee of $4,500, would monitor and troubleshoot any lift station problems and perform maintenance functions such as servicing pumps. Aqua Utility Systems would also provide a monthly systems report and could also provide chemicals for the utilities at an extra charge; however, those would likely be put out for bid.
“For the past couple years, we’ve had some pretty big emergency bills that have come up,” Loop said. “I just think there’s a better way to do this.”
Loop said it was reasonable to assume the town would pay more than the base rate, particularly the first year; however, eventually, the arrangement could save the town money while also improving plant operations.
“The intent was to see how to get that down,” Woosley said of the possibility of lowering operating expenses from repairs.
Loop suggested the town, which currently does business with Aqua Utility Systems on a separate service agreement, weigh the advantages of amending the contract with rates and fees for lift-station monitoring at its December meeting with a proposed start date of Jan. 1. He indicated the current deal runs through April 1, 2024, and since, if they elected to add the services, it would be an amendment to a current contract and would not be necessary to put out for bid.
The council took no action, with Loop explaining this was just the next step in the process, should it wish to pursue an amendment.
Woosley, as part of his report, also announced recent paving work completed with monies the town received as part of a Community Crossings matching grant through the Indiana Dept. of Transportation had been completed. He mentioned Church Alley was initially tabbed as part of the project but was removed due to the contractor’s delayed timetable. The state finally required that work be returned to the project.
“It looks good; they did a good job,” Woosley said. “We’ve been able to stretch our paving dollars a long way with that program.”
In other business, the council:
• Heard from Speece that newly-hired Officer Fulkerson is scheduled to graduate from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy on Dec. 9. The department, Speece said, has been completing mandatory annual training. He also plans to submit a quote for updates to the police station’s training room at the December meeting.
• Received an ordinance prepared by Fox which implements the formal plan for how the town will spend its share of American Rescue Plan funds. A necessary component of the program, Fox assured the council the plan could be amended in the future if necessary.
• Voted to award a contract for infield drainage improvements at the town ballpark to RJ Lamb Lawn Service. RJ Lamb came in as low bidder for the work which must be completed by March 1, submitting a quote for $6,346.
• Announced council vice president Ben Stocksdale and councilman Billy Haller met to further research the 2022 salary ordinance. Through their findings, the council agreed to grant a 5% salary increase for town employees in the coming year. Fox will draft the salary ordinance for finalization at the December meeting.
• Appointed Brandon Hopf as new member of the town’s redevelopment commission.
• Discussed progress of clean-up at a residence in the 8600 block of S.R. 64. Fox will send a letter on behalf of the town, informing property owners they are in violation of the town’s zoning ordinance and would have 20 days to correct any issues.
• Learned from councilwoman Kathy Haller that Christmas tree lighting will occur at the Georgetown Optimist Club on Saturday, Dec. 4, along with breakfast with Santa, also at the club, on Saturday, Dec. 11. Judging for house lighting decorations will be from Dec. 15 to 17, she said.
• Reviewed, with property owner Zack Fox, some drainage issues Fox said exist at his property along Walts Road. He said dirt from prior right-of-way work near his property settled, contributing to the situation. Woosley said he would make time to take a look at the matter and recommend a possible solution.