Two weeks ago, Interim City Administrator Jay Newton spoke strongly in open session about the alleged “handshake” City of Greensburg/BTI sewer line agreement. “This is not the appropriate way to conduct business,” Newton said, addressing the city council and Mayor Bob Dixson. Newton’s frustration was not directed at BTI, or the Mayor, or the city council, he says it was directed at all parties involved.
“I don’t think there was anything underhanded about anything BTI or the city were doing, they were trying to expedite their building process and to get things done,” said Newton. “I think we should also recognize that the city was going through a rebuilding process and they had so many things going. I think dollars were probably an issue.”
When he arrived in Greensburg he found a stack of legal documents that had accumulated among city officials, city attorney Gordon Stall and BTI and rediscovered the deal that had passed through the hands of the three previous city administrators.
“The problem was that it had never gone to the council for approval, for action. This deal is almost four years old. I would have taken it to council four years ago — because it looks like someone is trying to hide something. I don’t think anybody is, but the process has kind of stumbled along. So my frustration was, ‘why did they let this linger?’”
The long delayed agreement was officially addressed two weeks ago Wednesday, when the city council unanimously voted to “pursue the agreement” in which Greensburg would potentially purchase the BTI-owned sewer line that connects the Greensburg Industrial Park to the city sewer main on the north side of the highway for $103,500 in exchange for the annexation of BTI and it’s surrounding land.
“We’ve understood from the beginning that was more or less our agreement,” said BTI co-owner Mike Estes. “If we can get everything solved with the city, with regards to that line and of course the money we’ve invested in that line would come back to us, then we would be fine with the annexation.”
The deal has existed since 2008 and Mike Estes of BTI confirmed that the agreement was initiated handled by previous city administrator Steve Hewitt.
Under the proposed agreement the annexation would increase the city’s assessed valuation and the additional property taxes would add revenue to city coffers. “[BTI] are part of the community, they are using the services of the community and they are giving back to the community, I think it is appropriate for them to be annexed into the city,” said Newton.
BTI has said that it has no problem becoming part of Greensburg, a city it has been a part of since 1996 when it purchased a local dealership.
Page 2 of 3 - “We’ve been a part of this community ever since we’ve come here, in a big way,” said Estes. “We want to continue that relationship moving forward and expand on it if we can. We’ve never had a big issue with [annexation]. Yes we’re going to pay more taxes but we would be inside the city limits at that point and that would be ok.
“We’re very happy about everything that is going on in Greensburg,” continued Estes. “We think they are moving in the right direction. I’m a heavy supporter of the green initiatives and sustainability initiatives in Greensburg. It is a progressive community and it’s the community of future.”
Once the deal was revisited, Newton scheduled a meeting between Mayor Dixson, PEC city engineer Ben Mayberry, the contractor who built the sewer line and representatives from BTI to discuss the deal, during which Newton says he reiterated the city’s position.
“I told them that we needed to get this wrapped up because we can’t officially use a private sewer line. If a business moves into the industrial park, as it currently stands, we couldn’t use the current line and we would have to run our own line. I also put the annexation back on the table. [BTI] said ‘Yes we did agree to that.’”
Estes and Newton both point to the Greensburg Industrial Park and it’s future occupancy as a motivator in expediting the official close of the sewer line deal.
“The reason for the delay is that the city had not developed that business park,” said Estes. “The deal was contingent on the city [developing the business park] or bringing more businesses out that direction. That is why it has taken so long. The city finally got that park developed and that’s to their credit. Without that it would still be delayed. That’s the plain and simple reason.”
In discussions with the engineer, Newton was told that the cost of building a new sewer line under the highway would be comparable to the amount requested by BTI.
But Newton says that there are a number of hurdles to jump before the deal can be completed, including a possible problem with the line.
“There appears to be a sag in the line that runs under the highway. I told BTI that I wouldn’t recommend [the city] purchase that line until it is corrected,” said Newton.
“It has to sit correctly, otherwise we’ll have no interest in it. It needs to flow correctly.”
Newton has scheduled a review of the line on Wednesday and will report his findings to the city council. Newton has also requested official plans and a site map of the sewer line, which he said had not yet been disclosed to the city.
Page 3 of 3 - Publicly, both the city and BTI seemed to welcome the deal, which could potentially be finalized before the end of the year, pending the sewer line inspection and the official annexation of BTI into the City of Greensburg.
“There will be a positive economic benefit to the city [from the annexation process]. I wouldn’t have pursued this otherwise,” said Newton.