Deadline nears for state grant

Published 2:53 pm Thursday, September 29, 2022

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GATESVILLE – With the deadline just days away, Gates County officials and its engineering firm are scrambling to meet the Sept. 30 cut-off date to submit an application for state funding that will assist in needed improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure.

“Green Engineering is doing its due diligence to meeting the deadline for submitting the grant application,” said Dr. Althea Riddick, chair of the Gates County Board of Commissioners at their scheduled meeting on Sept. 21. “They’re having a hard time because they don’t have some of the needed documentation in place. They’re doing the best they can with what documentation they have discovered.”

Riddick said what is currently needed to fix the water and wastewater issues in the county will total $8.9 million.

“For years we deferred maintenance and in some years there was no maintenance [on those systems],” Riddick stressed, adding that approximately 1,000 of the county’s 4,638 water meters are not functioning property.

She said the cost to replace all water meters is roughly $2 million.

Brad Arnold, the county’s Public Utilities Director, spoke about the accuracy of the older meters.

“Generally the rule of thumb is that the older the meter, the slower it reads, it’s underreporting usage,” he suggested.

Arnold added that he estimates current water loss at 37.5 percent, mostly due to leaks and old meters not registering accurate usage. That translates into losing 950,000 to one million gallons per day. That’s roughly 26 million gallons per month compared to billing for about 15 million gallons.

“We’re going to do more than patch our water system; we need to fix it and stop kicking the can down the road,” Riddick stressed. “We are losing revenue because of what was not done previously; we’re spending more money because of what was not done. The state is driving this; this board is being directed by the state. We can’t allow our current [water and wastewater] staff to be villainized because of doing what needs to be done. The state is offering grants to help us fix our problems, but we need to have the proper documentation accompanying our grant application in order to have it scored properly.”

Riddick added that if the county’s grant application is only partially funded or not funded at all, there will be another opportunity in the spring of 2023 to apply for the next round of state funding.

In a matter related to the current effort to secure one of those grants, County Manager Tim Wilson suggested the need for a local match that he felt would assist the county in the process.

“Unfortunately, some of the needs that water and wastewater systems have aren’t necessarily seen as priority,” Wilson stated. “In other words they score low [on the application].”

He added that it was originally stated there would be no local dollars needed, but the consultant believes that in an effort to bolster the application’s competiveness, matching funds were needed.

That recommendation is $250,000. That money, Wilson said, would come from the county’s Enterprise Fund Balance, not the General Fund Balance. That account currently has a little over $800,000 in its coffers.

“This would show that we are willing to put some skin in the game,” stated Commission Vice Chair Linda Hofler.

“We’re not scoring well because of what was earlier said to be a lack of some documentation,” Riddick remarked. “So, hopefully, by putting some money in it would make our application look better.”

“We need to get $4 million through the grant; if we don’t it will be all on us [to make repairs] and we would be spending far more than $250,000,” said Commissioner Jack Owens. “This money has been set aside over the years to make water/wastewater repairs.”

Owens motioned to approve using $250,000 from the Enterprise Fund as matching funds for the grant application. Commissioner Ray Freeman offered a second and the motion was approved without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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