State, federal spending cuts hit town utility

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL - Federal budget cuts and reorganization under a new governor are issues town leaders face as they proceed toward better service to residents here in northern Marshall County.

Gov. Bill Haslam "came in with changes in the last few months," consulting engineer Will Owens of Griggs & Maloney in Murfreesboro reported to the board. "Part of those changes put the CDBG in limbo."

Community Development Block Grants go through state offices from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Chapel Hill has been awarded a $311,000 grant to help fund replacement of an old sewer with a bigger pipe that's to have a better grade to improve flow.

Moving the money, first authorized by Congress, "got drawn out longer than expected," Owens said, explaining funds are emerging from limbo, but spending should wait for spring.

"We could probably punch it (accelerate the contracting process) to start sooner," the town's consulting engineer said. However, construction during dry months of summer is "easier and faster than during wet weather."

Those factors would probably lead to lower bids from contractors, he said.

Some of the pipes to be replaced are under pavement, thereby affecting traffic, so waiting until the summer would "avoid disrupting school traffic, especially buses," he said. "The lion's share of the work should be done before school starts back" next year.

Affected streets include Morningside, Eveningside, Crestview and Hastings.

Town Administrator Mike Hatten doesn't want to rush the project, explaining, "We are a little behind on this grant." He also wants to examine the contracts more carefully.

State officials wanted an audit and asked for documents on bonds or loans to cover the town's part of the project.

"We're not issuing debt," Hatten said. "We're paying for it."

Another delay on the state level included a department employee who became ill and the grant processing was not completed on schedule, the administrator said.

Owens spoke of "wholesale changes" in the grant application process.

"It will be interesting to see how they rank the projects," the engineer said.

Hatten then pointed to a larger concern. Money may not be available through HUD.

The "current federal administration" is apparently going to reduce spending on CDBG type funding for projects such as the town's sewer replacement project from nearly $5 billion nationally to less than $2 billion, Hatton said, attributing that information to reports from the Tennessee Municipal League.