Grant money in place for regional water project

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Watauga Regional Water Authority met Monday evening to discuss the grant status of developing infrastructure for using the Watauga River as a new regional water source.
   According to David Ornduff, director of Planning and Development for the City of Elizabethton, Congress has appropriated funds for the project through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
   "The funds are there and will be awarded as soon as we provide some additional documentation to EPA for their grant process. What we're waiting for is the grant approval," Ornduff said. "Once we get the grant approved and get it signed, then we can draw down the money to hire an engineer and do the design work."
   According to Ornduff, the EPA will provide a grant in the amount of $873,000, or 55 percent of the total $1,587,257 projected costs for design and engineering and project inspection. The water authority will have to provide a 45 percent match in the amount of $714,275.
   However, he said, "Of that required match, the city and county has provided $224,150, which leaves a balance of $490,125," to be paid either through water authority funding, loans or grants.
   The $224,150 already expended includes funding for work which was done before development of the water authority and before the grant was submitted.
   "We submitted that as part of the match to our grant, and they have accepted that; so that means we can use it," Ornduff said. "We can also use some of the engineering work that's already been done when we move forward with the project after the grant is approved. But we still have to come up with $490,000 more."
   Ornduff stated that, once the grant application has been fully processed, only then will funds be available for use.
   Carter County Executive Dale Fair, Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl, and Ornduff will meet with First Tennessee Development Director Ken Rhea before the water authority meets again to explore all possible avenues of obtaining funding without incurring new debt. The group will report back to the board at its next meeting set for 5 p.m. April 7.
   "Everybody has a right to good water. Yes, that's a lot of money. But this is one of those basic things that money shouldn't be the total impact. This is not a wish. This is a need, " Fair said. "So I'm not going to let numbers get me down because the project is such a good thing for this community. In 20 years or 30 years, people are going to be glad if we can get this thing accomplished."
   Fair said the water authority will be going in with money already, because the $224,000 already expended counts as matching funds. "Even though it's not all cash, it's a match. Therefore we get that 55 percent of the $873,000 portion immediately because we put up an immediate match. So we have money available."
   If the authority invests more and gets additional state grants or local grants, those will count toward the match it has already received. Toward the end of the project, Fair said it may be necessary to borrow money. Nevertheless, he said, the project has begun.
   "We still lack $490,000, but we can work on grants to fill those and not have it come out of our budget."
   Fair also told water authority members that the eight utility districts have agreed to the 50-cent per-connection surcharge approved by the board of directors at its Jan. 6 meeting. The money will be used to establish an administrative office with a director and appropriate resources to plan, coordinate, and initiate all activities necessary to meet the goals of the water authority.
   Each utility district will begin to collect the surcharge by May 1, 2003. Then, beginning in June, districts will begin forwarding a monthly check to the water authority representing the cumulative fees collected.
   The board also agreed to begin advertising for a water authority director. A motion was approved to accept resumes through May 1. The new director would be paid $45,000 to $55,000 annually, with benefits.
   Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl said he believed the salary range should be spelled out when advertising for the director so that the group can avoid potential candidates balking at the last minute when they learn how much the job pays.
   "We may be selling ourselves short by spelling out the salary, but, at the same time, I don't want to mislead," he said.