It was like the light at the end of the tunnel, said Williamston Mayor Rockey Burgess.
The city, hoping to become a “dormitory community” for families, was about to launch major development projects like repairing its sewage and water pipes. Banking on the possibility of growth, projects were designed at the start of the year, focusing mainly on the release of funds from the US bailout plan approved by the federal government in March.
With the bank’s first round of funding, cities now have the certainty and money to attempt a one-time funding opportunity.
“We don’t want to be left behind”: How Williamston takes a chance to move forward
Earlier this year, 235 South Carolina local municipalities were waiting for Governor Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Administration to seek $ 435 million in federal funds to recover from the economic lashes of COVID-19 .
While large cities like Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson could apply directly to the US Treasury for funds, small municipalities of less than 50,000 people depended on the state government for their funds.
In August, Burgess told the Greenville News that the postponement of funds could put local cities in a precarious position. Competition among municipalities for the same resources such as contractors, planners and workers could peek into the works.
On August 27, McMaster applied for the funds after weeks of deliberation, and in October, Williamston received his first installment of funding.
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Scott Slatton, of the SC Municipal Association, said the majority of local municipalities are still in the early stages of planning how they intend to spend their money.
“Water, sewage, broadband, premiums, public safety spending, public health spending – these things definitely qualify,” Slatton said.
But some cities, Slatton said, wondered if they could build a recreation project.
“And the question is: where is it going to be built in terms of the demographics and socio-economic status of a particular part of the city? Who will it primarily be used for? census tracts? There are therefore many specificities to take into account in determining whether these projects are eligible or not, ”he said.
In Pelzer, Mayor Will Ragland and city council are assessing similar issues and the type of projects the city can spend the funds on.
“We are very excited,” Ragland said. “Pelzer dreams of restoring three historic structures, streetscapes.”
But it was about finding the balance between wants and needs, he said. “Hot things might not be what we need first.”
Ragland said the city will collect feedback from residents and likely focus on the water pipe projects.
What Williamston was able to do with the first round of funding
The first thing the city could do was buy back its sewage capacity after paying Anderson County $ 300,000 to fully control its one million gallon per day sewage capacity.
Williamston owned and was assigned a capacity of 700,000 gallons per day. The rest belonged to the county and was something the city couldn’t use.
The city’s wastewater treatment plant discharged an average of 500,000 gallons of water per day into the Saluda River, according to Burgess estimates. But with more people and buildings in the area, the amount of water released is likely to increase.
“All the mayors have done their best to reclaim this capacity,” he said in August.
He explained that many counties in the state own a certain portion of the town or town’s sewage plants. The counties do this in case a business moves to the area and opens the door to economic development.
But given that Williamston is unlikely to see a major manufacturing entity within his city limits, the county, Burgess said at the time, is sitting on an ability it doesn’t need.
Exceeding the sewage limit could also risk alarming the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“They could impose a moratorium on us and not allow new construction,” he said.
Burgess said the sewer project will have contractors and engineers by the end of the year after the bidding process for contracts begins.
City leaders are also worried about inflation and the impact of a supply chain crisis on the workforce. In late November, McMaster signed an executive order to tackle the supply chain crisis. The ordinance relaxed and suspended certain state and federal regulations relating to the services provided by commercial drivers.
In addition, there are costs associated with it.
“Since October, I’ve seen a 14% increase in inflation surcharges from my suppliers,” said Burgess, who is used to leading construction crews. “So I know we’ll have the same thing every time we bid on these projects.”
“Everyone’s going to want to do projects,” Slatton said. “And it’s just going to be a question of supply, and demand will be high demand, and then a limited supply of people to do that kind of work. So I expect those kinds of delays, “he said.” But the good news is we have until 2026. [to use the money]. “
Devyani Chhetri is the state government surveillance journalist. You can reach her at [email protected] or @ChhetriDevyani on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Cities launch projects funded by US bailout, but questions remain