A series of communication missteps finally led to a roundtable meeting this morning between representatives of the Brown County Music Center and the Town of Nashville.
No decisions were made about the music center’s unpaid town utility bill of $12,695, as neither group had a quorum present.
However, two people at the table informally agreed to present a compromise to their respective boards. Music center Co-President Barry Herring and Nashville Town Council President Jane Gore exchanged contact information so that they could continue talking.
The bill issue came to a head last week when news of it landed on the front page of the Herald-Times (Bloomington). On the town attorney’s agenda for the Feb. 20 council meeting, released to the public and the media the week prior, Town Attorney James T. Roberts had written: “Brown County Music Center has failed to pay the initial user fee for its water and sewer hookup. The fees are about $12,000. Sean (Cassiday, town utility coordinator) has made a demand for payment, but has had no direct response. There are remedies available including disconnect.”
Music center representative Bruce Gould went to the Feb. 20 town council meeting to ask to set up another meeting with town reps. That gathering, which grew to 10 people and two news reporters, took place this morning.
At first, the music center reps proposed that the town forgive its $12,645 bill because the music center had spent more than $18,000 to redo work caused by bad information from the town.
That didn’t go over well. Roberts suggested that the music center folks might want to talk to a lawyer, and Herring started stacking items on the table as if he was going to walk. Herring said he’d come to talk person to person and that he’d hoped that “common sense would prevail,” considering the “economic driving engine” the music center was going to be for this community.
Gore said she really didn’t want to see this get into a legal situation.
After about an hour of discussion, the possible compromise they came to is for the music center pay all but $6,500 of the bill, for a total of $6,195. The $6,500 was an extra fee for “labor beyond basic meter tap.” However, that’s not final until both boards approve it.
Roberts said at this morning’s meeting that the town was “not at war with the music center.” What happened is that some mistakes were made on both sides, which “festered” and led to this point.
The Town of Nashville agreed more than a year ago to provide water and sewer service to the music center, even though the building is outside the town’s corporate boundary. Music center Co-President Kevin Ault signed the town’s water and sewer connection agreements, and the town went ahead with providing service, Cassiday said.
The town does not have maps of where its utilities are underground, Cassiday said. A former utility superintendent who knew where they all were has died, and that knowledge died with him, Gore said.
When existing lines were “located” at the music center building site, some assumptions were made, and while excavating, site workers hit a sewer line, said Jim Schultz, who helped supervise the building project. He said that the marked location, which was done by the town, was 95 feet off of where the line actually was.
As a result, the music center incurred unexpected costs, including nearly $19,000 to rework the plan for Maple Leaf Boulevard, raise the road and bring in more gravel, said Doug Harden, who designed the project.
The music center builders also had trouble finding a water line they could tap into, so extra labor went into that on the music center’s and town’s sides, Cassiday and Schultz said.
Then, there was the issue with billing.
Roberts acknowledged that the town should have followed normal procedure and charged the music center upfront for the tap fees before utilities were connected. Then, if there were any other charges — which had been mentioned as a possibility in the contract — the town could have billed those separately. But in its haste to see the music center get up and running, it didn’t do that, Roberts said. That was mistake No. 1, he said.
The ribbon was cut on the music center Aug. 15, 2019.
On Aug. 1, Cassiday wrote out a bill for $12,695. It included a $2,000 fee to tap into the sewer line and a $10,695 charge for the water connection, a deposit, an oversized meter charge and “labor beyond basic meter tap.”
The address on that letter is the music center’s post office box. However, it’s unclear when or whether it was actually mailed.
Schultz said he received the original bill by hand delivery from county employee Ric Fox while Schultz was “up on a ladder” during one of the venue’s first shows. Schultz said he was told to give it to Herring.
Cassiday said he had it delivered that way because he’d been unable to find Herring several times at his business, and someone suggested that Fox would be seeing him.
A subsequent bill was delivered by certified mail and was signed for by the music center’s controller, but it’s unclear where it went after that.
In the future, bills will be delivered to the PO box addressed to the music center’s executive director, Christian Webb.
The second mistake Roberts said was made is that the music center group didn’t notify the town promptly of “damages” it incurred because of the line locate problems, so that the town and music center could talk about those and the unpaid bill before now.
Herring said that the way he received the first bill was “unprofessional,” and that no one from the town had contacted him since then. He said he called a town council member about it two months ago, saying that they’re not paying the bill because they feel they “suffered major damages” as a result of incorrect information from the town. That town council member was not at this meeting.
Too many things also were done verbally and outside procedure, said town council member Alisha Gredy. The town council is in the process of putting in a place a communication plan so that everyone knows how town business in general should be conducted.
Herring said that news of the music center not paying a $12,000 bill had caused concern at LiveNation, which books major shows for the venue. “We’ve got $1 million in the bank, and then I get calls from LiveNation saying, ‘Are you guys having trouble?'” he said. “We are not having trouble. There were errors on both sides.”
Gore told the group that “we don’t want to not be friends. We love the music center.”
Gore and Herring pledged to go back to their boards and present the compromise, then keep in touch. The meeting ended with Roberts and Herring shaking hands.