Huntland eyes municipal sewer

 

The Franklin County Commission approved on Sept. 20 to fund $1.5 million to cover a shortfall on Huntland’s major sewer project after the low bid came in higher than expected.

The commission agreed to the funding despite concerns that the $1.5 million would be coming entirely from the county’s $8.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, is a $1.9 trillion economic-stimulus bill passed by Congress to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession.

In Franklin County’s case, some of the money could go to help Huntland.

Huntland is facing an Oct. 15 deadline to have its funding approved by the state.

However, the county is expecting word from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on a potential 30/70-percent sewer-maintenance grant with the state paying the greater share.

County Mayor David Alexander said if the county gets the state grant, it would provide an opportunity to leverage the $8.2 million into $15 million or more to be used for pending projects.

At present, it is unclear whether TDEC will have the county’s sewer-maintenance grant approved by the Oct. 15 deadline, and Alexander said state channels tend to move slowly.

Alexander said recently that if the Oct. 15 deadline is not met, the contractors may opt to not have the project rebid, giving the county more time to get the sewer-grant money.

He cautioned the commission on Sept. 20 about approving the $1.5 million without knowing whether the TDEC grant funding would come through.

Commissioner Eddie Clark said the motion to approve the $1.5 million didn’t include a date, and even if the county did not get TDEC confirmation by Oct. 15, the county could still get the sewer-maintenance grant funding later.

Alexander said what the commission approved means Huntland will be getting the $1.5 million regardless of whether the county gets sewer-maintenance grant approval from TDEC.

He said that means the entire $1.5 million would be taken from the $8.2 million in ARP funds.

He cautioned the commission before the vote about setting precedent because other similar requests for the ARP funding will probably be made by Franklin County communities, and he advised the commission to do what it could to expand the available funds by using it to leverage additional grant money.

County Commissioner Scottie Riddle, who represents Huntland, said, regardless, the city needs the sewer upgrade because high rain volume has left sewage backed up in residential bathtubs.

Commissioner Angie Fuller said Huntland School has had similar problems.

“It’s horrible,” she said.

Huntland Mayor Dolton Steele summed up where the city stands in a letter to Alexander, Third District Commissioners Dale Schultz and Riddle and the County Commission.

“After finally receiving authorization to bid the job and open the bids on July 15, 2021, the construction low bid was $6.2 million, leaving a $1.5 million shortfall,” Steele said. “We have to have the total funding assured and approved by the state before Oct. 15, 2021, or the contractors have a right to withdraw their bids.

“If we don’t proceed with the construction, we will lose out on the only real opportunity to have a modern sewage-disposal system to service the residential, educational, commercial and industrial concerns of the community. Also, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have already been spent will be of no effect. If we do not proceed, the grants that a lot of people worked hard to obtain will be lost.”

Steele said completing the sewer project is paramount for Huntland’s livelihood.

He said that more than six years ago, the Huntland Board of Mayor and Aldermen and residents worked on a proposal to get funding and to design a sewer system that would serve residential areas, Huntland School and commercial and industrial property.

“Many residents who pay both city and county taxes are at a hardship in that their sewage disposal is inadequate and problematic during rainy weather and in dry periods too,” Steele said. “The school is landlocked and cannot install more septic field lines and has had problems with their system in the past.”

He explained that after getting a design approved and a cost estimate, a Community Development Block Grant was funded four years ago plus several other grants and loans.

Steele said that about $4.7 million was earmarked for construction costs and the rest for land purchases and engineering, permit fees, legal fees and other required expenses.

He explained why the process was hindered.

“An extended time it took to find land that was suitable and could be purchased at an affordable price, along with constant turnover in employees at the grant and loan agencies as well as employees in the state system, and then COVID-19 delayed the receipt of funds and the bidding process,” Steele said. “In the meantime, construction costs rose.”

He said those factors led to the $1.5 million shortfall and the need for the county to chip in the money.

 “I see no other avenue of funding, in what we consider a major way, that could be obtained in this short time frame,” Steele said. “Your consideration and possible funding is greatly appreciated.”