DECATUR -- The Decatur City Council held a public hearing and special meeting March 23 in the conference room at Decatur city hall and via zoom. The topic was water line extensions to rural customers outside the Decatur city limits.
Cassie Elliot, the city's grant writer, was on hand during the public hearing to answer any questions the council and public might have concerning the grant process and the history of the proposed water project.
Bob Tharp found several problems with the city's water system that arose just before he became mayor in 2015.
"When I came into office, we as a city had typically put in a lot of water lines without a good return on our investment," Tharp recalled. "So when the city puts in a $50,000 water line that services only three customers, that pay less than $100 a month, it takes a very long time to recoup those dollars."
Shortly after taking office, Tharp was contacted by several rural residents requesting a line be put in so they could be on the Decatur city water.
"We have one particulate person in rural Decatur who has campaigned me a couple or three times to do something about getting water," Tharp said.
Since that time, Elliot, Tharp and Kim Wilkins, city clerk, have worked on several grant options that included the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help pay for these proposed water lines in rural Decatur
Because most of the grants for which the city applied included requirements such as how to spend the grant and qualification criteria, the city's applications were all denied.
In 2019, Elliot began looking into the Arkansas Economic Development Commission grant to see if the rural water project would fit the criteria. She found that it would, particularly since the city had used similar grants for the purchase of firefighting equipment and the Decatur Fire Department Station 1 building itself.
When the city conducted a study in 2020 to find who in rural Decatur needed water, they found five areas in western Decatur that had the most people in need of a good, clean water supply. City officials narrowed the project to two areas, Mt. Zion and the southern end of the West Mountain Road extensions. These areas had the most households in need of city water and are near enough to existing water lines in western Decatur to make it easier to tap into the system.
On recommendations by Elliot, Tharp and James Boston (director of public works), the council voted to approve a resolution to allow city officials to apply for a $1 million grant from the Arkansas Community and Economic Development Program (ACEDP). This is a 100 percent grant that would not require the city to match funds.
If approved by the ACEDP, the city of Decatur will use $500,000 initially to begin work on the Mt. Zion extension program, with the remaining funds to complete as much of the West Mountain Road extension as possible before the grant money is used up.
"This is the better of the deals if we qualified for it," Tharp said. "We don't pay a dime on the thing and we get to sell water through the line. So that is a good thing for the city and that sale of the water will take care of the service repairs and updates to the system, plus there are a lot of people who really need the water in rural Decatur."