SNOW HILL – The Lewis Road sewer extension project will proceed despite concerns from several elected officials about how it’s being funded.
The Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve funding the Lewis Road sewer extension with a grant, a loan and money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Commissioners in opposition said they supported the project but felt it wasn’t fair to use ARPA funding for it.
“I just don’t understand why the ratepayers over there wouldn’t have to pay for the connection from the road to their house,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “Why would the county pay for that? We don’t do it anyplace else.”
County staff said the sewer extension was expected to cost $1,980,000. Proposed project funding is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan in the amount of $500,000 at an interest rate of 1.375% for 40 years and a grant of $1,480,800.
“It has taken some time to secure this funding from the feds,” said Bob Mitchell, the county’s director of environmental programs.
He said ARPA funding could be used to help with the project, particularly to cover connection costs for residents.
Commissioner Diana Purnell was quick to voice her support for the proposal.
“It’s been a 20-year project,” she said. “I think we should try to go ahead and do this and get it done.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting said he supported the project but said the county didn’t usually cover hookup costs for residents. Mitchell said typically the county offered loans.
“We haven’t done this for other areas,” Bunting said, adding that Newark residents had recently had increased costs due to sewer work.
He added that the commissioners had already talked about using the county’s ARPA funding for broadband and fire companies.
“You’ve gone to the umpteenth degree here to really help this community…,” Bunting said. “I just don’t see where they would qualify for any extra help as compared to any other part of Worcester County.”
Bertino agreed. He said when the Newark rates had increased officials had received letters from residents citing the difficulty they’d have in paying the higher fees.
“Are we opening ourselves up to people coming in saying ‘I’ve got problems too, I want the county to pay for my hookup?’” he said.
Mitchell said there were environmental issues associated with the Lewis Road project. He said it also wasn’t in one of the state’s priority funding areas.
Bertino said he thought that if this was approved residents in other service areas would have every right to come in and ask for funding help.
“This is something that’s been in the works for 20 years,” Purnell said.
Bertino said that didn’t change the fact that no one community should be treated differently than others.
“It just doesn’t seem fair,” he said.
Bunting suggested the commissioners wait to make any decisions regarding ARPA funds until they had a work session on the topic.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said ARPA funding wasn’t available when the county’s previous sewer projects were underway.
“This gets rid of a lot of septic systems that are leaching into waterways,” he said.
The commissioners voted 4-3, with Bertino, Bunting and Commissioner Ted Elder opposed, to approve the project using the USDA loan, grant and ARPA funds.