The Eatonton Putnam Water and Sewer Authority (EPWSA) is preparing an application for grant money via the American Rescue Plan Act to garner $6,127,000 for a total budget to spread out over four years.
The structure of the grant calls for a 50 percent match of $3,063,500 by Putnam County ($600,000), the city of Eatonton ($400,000) and EPWSA ($2,063,500).
As a part of the EPWSA application, the total sum of the grant and the matching funds would be used for Dance Road, (411)-MLK loop, Alice Walker, primary school loop, hydrant removal and replacement, West Sumter, valve insertion, mapping, modeling and a rehab hospital lift station.
Last Friday at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Putnam County Board of Commissioners (BOC), EPWSA came before the Board to pitch their request for matching funds.
Authority attorney John Nix suggested the ARP funding by the county would create a unified approach and wondered aloud how EPWSA could access the county ARP monies for that part of the matching funds.
“Participation with the city and the county will have great emphasis on the application”, he said to the BOC. “The Authority will put up $2 million and the county and city will put up $1 million. The goal is to raise $6 million [in rough numbers].”
The presentation continued with EPWSA representatives discussing 54 painted fire hydrants in the city that needed replacing [a rough number they said]. Once a budget is set from the funding, “we will do as many as we can”.
As vague and ambiguous as that was, they continued, admitting there wasn’t a working water model in existence but once they were financed, they would be able to get those answers. Additionally, they said, replacing decaying pipe lines was “not in this scope”, saying pipeline enhancements were not included.
“We have poor water quality in the ground,” said Commissioner Daniel Brown.
When BOC Chairman Billy Webster called for a motion on the request for EPWSA funding, Commissioner Bill Sharp, ironically the chairman of EPWSA, said the county portion of the split with the city should be 60 percent of the match with the city carrying 40 percent.
“I make a motion for Putnam County to fund $150,000 a year for four years for a total of $600,000 from the ARP grant money,” Sharp bellowed.
Not so fast. First off, why would the chairman of EPWSA and a commissioner not recuse himself from making that motion and instead wait on the motion to come from elsewhere?
“I am concerned about the percentage of the split being $600,000 for us to only $400,000 from the city,” said Webster. “EPWSA put this budget together without consulting with the county beforehand. I found out about it reading the article by the Eatonton Messenger (Sept.23). Now, it looks like we could be reneging on something we never said.”
Nix, appearing red-faced and sullen, admitted the Authority was “on fire” trying to meet the state deadlines for the grant applications but found out right after the fact the state deadline had been extended until the end of October.
“The newspaper scooped us,” Nix admitted. “I dropped the ball.”
Webster was undeterred. “Most of this work will be done in the city,” he stated. “We are being asked to put most of the skin [money] in the game with a 60/40 split. Why?”
“We thought we could ask the county for a little more help since the city folks live in the county,” Nix replied.
Webster bristled at the notion. “The citizens out in the county have been paying $6 per month more for water than the people who live in the city,” he exclaimed. “It has been that way for 13 years and if you add tha up, they have paid about $2.4 million more. We have met that match. Now, we are being asked to pay 60 percent more.
“I just wish we had been given the opportunity to discuss this with EPWSA before we were scooped by the newspaper.”
With no further discussion, the motion was approved unanimously for EPWSA funding.
However, on Sept. 27, Webster sent a scathing letter to EPWSA demanding answers on the omission of the BOC from discussions that were obtained by the Eatonton Messenger.
In the letter, Webster referenced the Sept. 23 Messenger story “EPWSA preparing application for Rescue Plan funds.”
From the story about the Sept. 15 EPWSA meeting, Nix talked about the ARPA application. “There’s gold on this application to make it stand out to the state board that will review it,” the story said “Other points members see in their favor would be Putnam General Hospital and the Primary School.”
“I am deeply concerned there has been a serious breakdown in communications between EPWSA and the County,” wrote Webster. “I learned of the details of the application by reading the referenced article in the newspaper. It appears the application, insofar as any input on the county’s part, can be considered a “fait accompli.”
“Since the county was not consulted in the formation of this application nor given a chance to comment or make suggestions before it was made available to the public, I now request answers.”
Following five requests of the EPWSA board for answers, Webster concluded by writing, “Two of the highest responsibilities of the BOC are maintaining the public trust and safeguarding the taxpayer’s monies,” he wrote. “As such, if all we have to base our decisions in are the contents of articles that appear in the Eatonton Messenger, the BOC cannot commit to any public funding and any inference to the contrary is both highly prejudicial and unprofessional. I await your answers.”
The votes were there and Sharp’s motion passed despite Webster’s letter.