City seeking grant for water-sewer studies

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy is seeking two state grants totaling $150,000 which have a dual purpose — to assess the municipality’s water and sewer systems while also improving the city’s chances of winning future construction grants for needed improvements.

Initially, grants of $75,000 each are being sought to provide an asset inventory and assessment for both utilities.

The grants became available for that purpose last year through the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, according to city Public Works Director Jeff Boyles. The grant program is aimed at encouraging utility providers around the state to become more proactive in the management and financing of their systems, and increasing the viability of utilities.

An asset inventory and assessment would provide vital decision-making information to city officials to assist with prioritizing and rating future system improvements, Boyles explained.

He indicated during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners last week — when the board unanimously approved seeking the two grants in separate votes — that the utility system overall is probably the single-most-valuable asset the municipality has.

It has a value of $200 million, Boyles said. That includes 198 miles of water lines and 141 miles of sewer lines.

That asset is critical to the community, he said, which is apparent when temporary water outages occur. And the need to keep systems maintained becomes more profound given what has occurred in northern cities such as Flint, Michigan.

Among other benefits, Boyles added, the asset inventory and assessment would establish a rating system to show Mount Airy officials which facility priorities should be addressed, including those with a high rate of failure.

Points for grants

A long-term benefit of the state program would involve the city receiving points to help it better qualify for future grants for water and sewer line construction, as opposed to having such projects funded by local taxpayers.

Not having such an asset inventory and assessment on file has hampered recent grant applications filed by Mount Airy, City Manager Barbara Jones said at last week’s meeting.

“We lost points because of that,” Jones said of a rating system ranking grant-seeking localities based on that factor as well as such considerations as a community being economically stressed and the income level of residents to be served by projects.

The lack of an inventory assessment was said to be a factor in the denial of two Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) applications that were filed last September by Mount Airy officials. Those applications sought $2 million in federal funds to replace aging water and sewer lines in one of two different sections targeted.

One is the Westside Redevelopment Area that includes the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial site the city government now owns and is trying to revitalize, and a public housing neighborhood. The other is a mostly residential area around Merritt and Maple streets.

After the grant requests were denied, city Community Development Director Martin Collins said more work would be done so the applications could be resubmitted during the next CDBG funding cycle, when Mount Airy’s chances might be better.

The commissioners were asked to approve the grant requests for the asset inventory and assessment of the water and sewer systems last week so the applications could be filed by a deadline today.

“We would be responsible for a 10-percent match,” Boyles said of $15,000 in local funding that will be required if the applications are successful.

Should that occur, the city will seek requests for quotes from firms to perform the asset inventory and assessment tasks and decide to which to award the job, the public works director said,

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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