Peabody commits to big water project
After a few anxious moments of pondering worst-case scenarios, Peabody City Council voted unanimously Sunday to commit to a water infrastructure project costing at least $3.3 million.
The council actually hopes to spend $6 million on the project, which would include improvements to 65 blocks of water lines in the city.
Much of the work will be in an area north of 2nd St. and east of Union Pacific railroad tracks, where a majority of water line breaks have occurred.
The $3.3 million commitment made Sunday would lock in $1 million in funding in the form of a forgivable loan from Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Provided Peabody continues to meet criteria involving percentages of residents with low and moderate income, KDHE will forgive $1 million of a loan of $3.3 million or more for the water project.
Consulting engineer Darin Neufeld of the Marion office of EBH Engineering expects the city will be able to obtain other grants to cover much of the remaining cost of the project.
The forgivable loan could even qualify as local contributions against those grants.
But, as Mayor Lindsay Hutchison told council members at a special meeting Sunday night, the city must commit to the project before it can apply for those grants.
Council president Catherine Weems expressed concern what might happen if the city committed but none of the expected grants came through.
“I realize water lines need to be replaced, but we also have to realize we’re going to have to go into debt,” she said. “We can’t get people to pay their water bills now. I can’t imagine double that.”
Under various worst-case scenarios, average residential water bills could increase to $100 or $200 a month if no additional funding for a $6 million project is obtained.
As one member of the public put it: “Most people here in Peabody are on fixed incomes and that would completely move them to Newton or elsewhere.”
But Hutchinson tried to reassure Weems and the handful of citizens in attendance.
“In every project we’ve had him work on, Darin’s told us the truth,” she said. “He is 100% comfortable we’re going to find more funding.”
Even if not, the project could be scaled back from $6 million to $3.3 million without losing the $1 million forgivable loan.
Still, it poses somewhat of a risk for the city.
“The unknown element isn’t easy,” she said. “Our task is how to solve the biggest complaints of our citizens. No. 1 is water, and No. 2 is streets. It’s not going to be free.”
In adopting an ordinance committing to the project, council members also set a public hearing for 7 p.m. July 31 to hear citizen concerns and answer questions.