Purdy officials step up pressure to seek sewer funding
Lobbyist hired to secure funds, lower bills back to affordability
Having stalled in efforts to reduce costs for the Purdy sewer project, Purdy City Council members hired a lobbyist and planned other steps to improve the city's position for funding.
Council members hired Scott Marris, a lobbyist who represents the City of Monett on utility issues, at a cost of $2,500 over five months. Mayor Steve Roden said he had spoken to Marris, who has contacts within the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Marris had already made overtures on Purdy's behalf to Congressman Billy Long's office and to DNR.
"When the podunk mayor of Purdy goes knocking, I don't carry much weight," Roden said.
Roden also reported he spoke with State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, explaining the unaffordability of the current situation.
Roden said under federal regulations, to qualify for funding, Purdy residents must spend 2 percent of their median income on sewer services. With a median income of $31,135, according to the last federal census, 2 percent would calculate out to $51.88 a month. However, with the funding available to the city to date, sewer costs for 377 customers would run approximately $73 a month to complete the proposed $4 million sewer pipeline to Monett.
"I feel very strongly that $73 is not affordable," Roden said.
Funding already promised to Purdy includes a grant of $1,717,000 and a loan of $2.44 million, both through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program. Another $500,000 grant is pending if the city turns in new surveys from a large enough percentage of the population to show income levels. City Clerk Debbie Redshaw reported the number of needed surveys still sits at 86, despite another mailing. Roden vowed the city council will have to do something about that as well.
Under the timetable agreed upon for the sewer project, engineering plans should be completed by August and approved by DNR, with funding secured, by October. Construction is due to begin in March 2017, and the system to be ready for operation in November 2017.
Council members also discussed two related issues surfacing in the past month. With the loss of longtime sewer operator Teddy McIntire, the city began advertising for a replacement. Three candidates have submitted resumés to date. Council members agreed to continue advertising for another month. Roden said if a super candidate surfaces, he would call a special meeting.
In the meantime, the city has turned to friends for assistance. Dave Gatewood, the assistant public works operator, has conducted business working under the license of David Sims, the chief wastewater plant operator for the city of Monett. Roden, who works for the city of Monett as the water department foreman, has Gatewood operating under the umbrella of his water license.
Council members also agreed to place use of the irrigation field for the wastewater lagoon out for bid. The 55-acre field is supposed to be leased annually, but has been used for more than 10 years by Jim Arnaud at an annual cost of $3,000. Roden observed the lease had not gone to bid in years, and Redshaw said Arnaud has never provided a letter 90 days in advance of the lease's expiration indicating he plans to keep using the land. The lease runs out on May 1.
Roden directed Redshaw to seek a specific land description for the property from the city's wastewater permit before advertising. He felt there were restrictions on fertilizer use on the land by DNR, but did not know if all fertilizer use was banned. Critics of the sewer deal with DNR charged that Arnaud's use of fertilizer had spiked test numbers, showing higher nutrient levels in the effluent than actually occurred.
The city could bid the land as irrigated for another year, Roden said. After the new sewer system went into effect, the irrigation would end, but the city would have to maintain the old system as a backup, under the agreement with DNR.