ROCKINGHAM — Rockingham city officials have decided to move forward in applying for a state grant that would replace failing septic tanks with sewer lines in an East Rockingham neighborhood.
Council members on Tuesday voted 4-0, with Councilman John Hutchinson absent, that it would be better to request $2,946,000 in a Community Development Block Grant from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources — and then later decline committing the required $360,000 — rather than forfeit the possibility of the grant altogether.
At issue is the funding of $360,000 in hook-up fees for the estimated 120 residential customers along the streets of Homeward, School, Watkins, Pence and Stillwell as well as Sandhill Road. City Manager Monty Crump reiterated the concern he expressed during the council’s March 11 public meeting that the hook-up costs, which average $3,000 per customer, are no longer an eligible project expense.
Crump said he’s hopeful state lawmakers make provisions in the law during the May legislative session that would once again make the hook-up costs eligible under the grant instead of out-of-pocket costs from the city — which, inevitably, would be passed along to affected residents.
“Other communities I know are saying exactly the same things that we’re saying,” Crump told council members. “Right now, the issue is not resolved. Coming up with $360,000 to go into an area outside the city … is a tough call to make.”
Crump encouraged council members to vote to submit the application. Even if the grant would be awarded in June or July, if the city chose not to fund the $360,000 the grant money could also be returned, Crump said.
“If we don’t apply, we’re not in position to get any money at all,” Crump said.
Council member Travis Billingsley asked if there’s a tentative timeline to consider the issue. Crump said the grant application must be submitted to the state by May 1. Then, he said, there is a window of six to eight weeks for the state to review the applications and announce grant awards. Crump mentioned the May legislative session and reaching out to state Sen. Gene McLaurin and Rep. Ken Goodman.
“Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to get it addressed” before the grant announcements, Billingsley said.
Crump called that option “our best hope.”
“If enough of us … raise this issue, we may be able to get some kind of relief,” Crump said.
Mayor Steve Morris acknowledged the burden that would place on individual families already struggling to get by. Councilman Bennett Deane noted also that it’s an issue “we haven’t had on us before” and the change in eligible project expenses could deter some cities and counties from applying for such grants.
“In order to receive nearly $3 million, it’s probably still a pretty good deal,” he said.
Morris noted the council’s vote didn’t commit the city to spending $360,000 but merely that officials “acknowledge it will cost that much in local match.”