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Port Royal denied water system grant

Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 10:46 am

PORT ROYAL – Despite its aging, dilapidated water tower and public water system, the Town of Port Royal will not receive a federal grant to replace them.

The Town Council was briefed on the development during its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

“I have some bad news,” said Councilor Jim Heimbach. “We did not get the water grant.”

The town’s water tower tank, erected in 1941, may be in danger of caving in, and aging water lines need to be replaced. With less than 130 residents and only seven businesses, however, the town hardly has the funds for a water system overhaul that could cost as much as $1 million.

The town applied in March for a Community Development Block Grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, a program administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We didn’t even come close” to getting the grant, said Heimbach, who worked closely with the George Washington Regional Commission (GWRC) on the town’s application.

The state agency received $25 million in similar grant requests from 34 localities, but it had only $6.8 million to hand out, noted Heimbach. Port Royal’s water project is better suited for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and the Virginia Department of Health, according to state officials.

In order to help the town have a better chance of getting the grant, Port Royal had to show it would have sufficient funds to operate a new water system. The Town Council met with the Caroline County Board of Supervisors in February and asked the supervisors to allow Port Royal to expand its boundary. The boundary expansion would enable the town to increase annual revenues from about $17,000 to $87,000 through additional business licenses, sales taxes, and food-beverage taxes from businesses now outside the town limits. However, the Board of Supervisors has not agreed yet to the boundary change.

A written response to the town’s grant application said it was “questionable as to the ability (of the town) to maintain an upgraded system.” The state response also suggested the town’s water system “probably needs to be taken over by the county.”

Heimbach told fellow councilors, “We could not offer to the state any convincing evidence that we would have funding” to maintain an upgraded water system.

“Even if we had gotten the boundary change, I still think we would not have gotten the grant,” added Heimbach.

“It’s not a total loss,” said Councilor Bill Henderson. “We’ve learned some things” through the application process.

The Town Council voted unanimously in May to increase residential water rates from $20 a month to $25 and commercial rates from $25 a month to $35 to help fund the anticipated new water system. The new rates became effective July 1.

Based on an engineering study, the town had proposed a 200,000-gallon water tank, but state officials said a 75,000-100,000-gallon would be adequate. However, Heimbach told councilors that a 100,000 gallon tank would not be sufficient to operate fire hydrants, which the town needs.

Councilors had hoped for a $1 million grant, but the average grant given out by the state was $600,000, Heimbach said.

The total cost for upgrading the town’s water system, including new water lines, would be close to $1.8 million.

The grant applications were graded on a point system and Port Royal got over 500 points out of a possible 1,000.

“We lost a huge amount of points cause we were not able to put anything (funds) in,” Heimbach said. The town was relying on the state for all funding for the proposed project.