Fayette: Don't dismiss cost-share funding 2009.03.18

Fayette village council members might learn from Morenci’s experience when it comes to expensive upgrades to the community’s sewage treatment system.

Like so many communities throughout the country, Morenci and Fayette both have sewer systems that were designed to combine storm water with sanitary sewage lines. A heavy rain always produces the same result: a large flow of raw sewage into Bean Creek in Morenci’s case and into Spring Creek in Fayette’s.

You can complain all you want about the EPA and government intrusion and unfunded mandates and expensive upgrades, but it won’t get you anywhere. Raw sewage from municipal systems is not going to be allowed to flow into area streams.

Morenci decided to tackle the entire combined sewer overflow (CSO) project in one, massive effort. Residents began paying for the project in 1992 when construction got underway, and they’re paying still. There are three payments remaining before the annual assessment drops off. Ironically, payment for a large 1963 project ended just as the new one began.

Fayette chose to approach its CSO problem in phases. Work began in 1998 when it was planned as a $3.6 million project. About $1.5 million has been spent so far, but there’s more than $4 million remaining, and that doesn’t include the need for a new $4 million treatment system that would allow the village to grow.

But taking on the project all at once is not the lesson to learn from Morenci. Instead, what council members should capitalize on is the availability of grants. There was a time in the 1980s when Morenci could have received grants covering up to 75 percent of the project. Council didn’t act, the grants disappeared and now we’re all paying dearly—we have been for nearly two decades.

Fayette is applying for a grant that could offer a 75/25 cost share, but at least one council member is opposed to that kind of grant—not only because of opposition to federal stimulus funding but also because the village can’t come up with the remaining million and couldn’t afford even zero-percent loans.

That’s true, but the village will never have the funds available for a project of that scale.  Money will have to be borrowed. Morenci residents might point out that paying one quarter of the cost is far better than footing the entire bill.