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Article 52
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 8:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 8:30 p.m.

County abandons pursuit of grants for sewer project

By Heather J. Smith
The Dispatch

County commissioners decided they will not apply for a $250,000 state grant to install public sewer to a Denton manufacturer at a public hearing Wednesday.

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners were briefed by County Manager Robert Hyatt and Steve Googe, executive director of the Davidson County Economic Development Commission, who recommended progress on the grant application should halt.

Commissioners voted 3-3 with Larry Potts, Cathy Dunn and Fred McClure against applying, while Don Truell, Sam Watford and Billy Joe Kepley voted to proceed. Commissioner Dr. Max Walser was absent.

Last week, commissioners held the first public hearing to begin a grant application for the Small Business Entrepreneurial Assistance offered through the Community Development Block Grant program in the N.C. Department of Commerce’s office.

The Denton business, Loflin Fabrication, wants to expand its operations, which would create 10 jobs. Loflin makes buckets and other attachments for heavy operating equipment. Expansion of workspace would require expansion of waste water treatment, but at its present location, additional buildings would encroach into the expanded septic field.

The company owners approached the Handy Sanitary District, which provides water to the area, to ask if public sewer could be installed. HSD then requested partnership with the EDC to pursue grants to cover the cost of the project.

The EDC then asked the commissioners, the governing body eligible to apply for the grant on the business’s behalf, if it would submit an application for a grant it found the project was eligible for.

The commerce department’s block grant program widened perimeters of an existing grant program for small businesses. Handy staff found Loflin Fabrication’s proposed expansions could qualify for up to $250,000, well above the $150,000 sewer cost.

In conversations with commerce staff, Googe said he learned there were obstacles to be considered. First, because the program is essentially a test run, money requested in the state budget had not been finalized and it is uncertain if the full $1 million requested for the fund will be made available.

Second, Googe said the grant was created in 2007 for Tier 1 counties with high unemployment and low incomes. Davidson County has been designated by the state as a Tier 2 county, despite high unemployment.

Third, commissioners became involved in the application process after the block grant staff had already held a mandatory hearing. Hyatt said Handy representatives attended the hearing, but a waive would have to be requested for the county’s absence.

Armed with that information, the EDC board voted to recommend commissioners not pursue the grant application and instead explore other possible grants. The county’s chance to secure the grant appeared too slim, Googe said.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got maybe $750,000 up to $1 million going into this fund,” Googe said. “We’re asking for a quarter of it. There’s 11 (eligible counties) out there. I’m guessing six or seven are Tier 1 and they’re going to get priority.”

But several commissioners believed the county should try for the grant, even if success was unlikely.

“What’s it going to hurt to apply for it?” Watford asked. “If this doesn’t go through, then we’ll be working on something else.”

Kepley argued the application should be submitted anyway because the benefit of added jobs was worth the hassle.

“The application can be made, but if other funding is found, you would not have to complete the execution to get the other money,” Kepley said.

McClure sided with the EDC and county staff, saying it was a wasted effort.

What do we accomplish by doing something that we know in advance is 90 percent not going to work when all the parties have agreed that we could do this another way without even applying for this grant,” McClure asked.

He argued that commissioners, the EDC, Handy and Loflin Fabrication all want sewer service to the business, but don’t all necessarily want to pursue the grant. If easier money could be had, McClure said the county should seek it to complete their ultimate goal.

The board’s tie vote defeated the motion, but commissioners expressed interest in finding a way help Loflin Fabrication. The EDC is also on board.

“We are 100 percent committed to helping Loflin get sewer out there,” Googe said. He added, laughing, “We may be back here asking you to pay for it.”

Heather J. Smith can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 228 or at heatherj.smith@the-dispatch.com.

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