Thomaston stalled on water expansion project

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 15, 2007

THOMASTON &8212; After being awarded a $2.2 million grant for a water expansion project to the neighboring Taylor community, the Thomaston Water Board is at a stand still on whether or not to go forward with project.

Commissioner Calvin Martin, who also sits on the water board, said the first proposals for bringing water to the east edge of the county via Thomaston were discussed as early as 2004.

In 2006, the town applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, which provides funding for utility projects in cities and towns with populations of less than 10,000. Thomaston was awarded $2,215,300 in grant funds and an additional $1,282,000 loan, which would cover approximately 63 percent of the estimated $3.5 million project.

Richard Jay, who has done some of the preliminary survey work on the project and has worked on similar USDA-funded projects for 10 years, said it is rare for a project to be funded at that level. In the coming years, Jay said, the agency will only be able to offer up to 45 percent funding for projects such as these.

The water board&8217;s contribution to the project would be $6,500 and the $1.2 million loan would be repaid using the revenue brought in from the service area. In order to pay off the loan, water rates would be increased. The current minimum bill is $14.25 a month and an average bill is $20.83. The new minimum rate, based on 2,000 gallons of use, would be $18.53 with an average bill, based on 3,500 gallons of use, of $30.16.

Earlier this year, Martin began the process of recruiting people to sign-up for the project. The expansion is projected to provide 130 people who currently use well water with access to the Thomaston water system. Martin reported they have not been able to recruit 130 people for the project as of yet.

One issue, according to Jay, is that many people are reluctant to sign-up until they see some progress on the project. He cited every project he has worked on has had a similar circumstance.

Martin said people have been reluctant to sign-up because they were unsure if the town was planning to go forward with it.

Mayor Terry Counselman, who is opposed to the project, said it was his understanding that if they did not achieve the required number of signees, the project would not proceed.

He further explained the town was not in a position of growth, and the revenue base would not support the increase in prices. The rest of the water board also remained hesitant, citing a previous expansion project to the Flatwood community is now costing the town more money than it brings in.

Jay explained the town now has two options: they can either keep the scope of the project the same and try to adjust rates to make up for the lack of signees, or they can scale down the scope of the project to accommodate the need in the community.

Another boon for the project, according to Jay, is some funds can be used to provide much-needed upgrades to the town&8217;s aging water system. The plan lays out $210,000 for a new pump station and $350,000 allocated for upgrades to the existing well and well house. The project also includes a new 200,000-gallon water storage tank to be constructed at the intersection of County Road 38 and Sand Creek Road.

If the town does not decide to proceed, the grant funds will be given back to the USDA, Martin said. Furthermore, the town would have to pay the firm for work they have already performed for surveying and other costs.

The board is expected to take action on the project by their next regular session meeting on Dec. 3.