By Bobby Bordelon
Residents of Alderson can expect to see a visitor looking to gather data the town needs to qualify for several million dollars of funding for a water project in the near future. During the meeting of Town Council on Thursday, September 10, in addition to issues with the bridge trust, FEMA payouts, and a resolution supporting the railroad, the Mayor Travis Copenhaver explained.
“Todd Riggs aka “Hoss” is beginning the door to door income surveys for our application for a Small Cities Community Development Block Grant for the upcoming water project,” the town explained over social media. “We have to survey 431 of our customers in and out of the municipality. So if you get a water bill, Hoss May be coming to see you. There is no personal information on the survey and there are only two questions.”
The second of three readings of an ordinance approving “not more than” $700,000 for pre-water-project costs was approved by council on Thursday. This money would go towards the same project the potential block grant would fund.
“We’ve said from the beginning that this is going to fix 100 years worth of headaches and as we sit here today, red penning these, the people that are going to benefit from fire protection outside the municipality should really, really be thankful,” Copenhaver said. “It’s going to make a difference – fire hydrants where we’ve never had fire hydrants, … replacing outdated fire hydrants that we can’t get parts for, but, more importantly, it’s going to end the loops and the problems we’ve had, especially down behind the big wheel and on Cedar Avenue, some of these places we’ve had major problems and inadequacies for years because of problems with then they were put in, it’s gonna fix that.”
The survey is not the first of its kind in the town.
“It’s not asking for specifics, in fact it’s a very vague survey, we’ve done this a couple of times,” Copenhaver explained. “You have to do it for the Small Communities Block Grant. It puts two million dollars on the table. In the funding for this project, if we can obtain $2 million from that, there’s another $1 million that’s in play, plus possibly another million in grant funding, that’s $4 million of a $7 million project. … We have to go after every grant we can – the purpose of those door to door surveys is it’s a good time to be poor. If we are at 51 percent of low to moderate income on those surveys, then that puts us in the running for that community block grant.”
Towards the beginning of this project, water rates had been raised without much push back from the public. Copenhaver noted that unaccounted for water rates have been reduced from 56 to 14 percent and that although there was a rate increase, it was less than what could happen if the improvements were not made and the city had to bring in a company.
“If we can’t manage our own water, American Water buys us out … within a year your water bill will quadruple,” Copenhaver said. “Every year they ask for at least a 15 to 20 percent rate increase from the public service commission to do exact what we’re trying to do – upkeep and maintenance on infrastructure. Every year. All of the little mom and pop PSDs don’t do that because they know people are just trying to survive.”
After the passing of a member of the Alderson bridge trust, who did a majority of the paperwork filing for the bridge, approximately three years ago, and a subsequent lack of IRS filings, the trust has now found itself without it’s IRS designated non-profit status. As a result, council is now considering how to properly monitor the funds.
“The bridge trust was created many moons ago in an effort to save the memorial bridge after it was deeded to the municipality by the department of highways,” Copenhaver explained. “A few months ago the bridge trust was notified [by the IRS] that they had lost their 501 status with the IRS and, subsequently, have a little bit of a mess that we have to help them out with.”
Currently the trust is managed by the three-member board, including Linda Loudermilk and Councilman Tod Hanger. The trust has a checking account containing approximately $29 thousand and a savings containing about $53 thousand.
“My proposal, with all respect for both of you because you’ve taken care of this forever, that you put the funds into the municipal coffers, we put it in the special fund, and that fund is specifically spent from based on the [bridge] committee’s recommendations,” Copenhaver said.
While receptive to this idea, Hanger expressed one detail that needs to be monitored.
“I’m a little concerned about transfer of administrations because of the elections,” said Hanger. “There needs to be some way for continuity, that it doesn’t get expended by someone else.”
“You know my concerns, if it weren’t for some strong heads before that money would have been spent,” Copenhaver agreed. “… Previously a mayor tried to spend the bridge trust to pave and that can’t be done. … The purpose, for years, has been we use that for grant matches.”
The council is expected to consider a formal resolution on the trust in a future council meeting.
In other business:
• A resolution was passed by council in support of train transport throughout southern West Virginia. Copenhaver explained “we want to do what we can to support the daily Cardinal passenger train service and this resolution is basically that we support legislation establishing a continued state and multi-state railroad commission, which would promotion passenger rail services throughout municipalities in West Virginia and we oppose any reduction in rail services across the state. We also urge cooperation in the local, regional, and state leaders to advance a complete transportation network that safely, affordably, and conveniently connects people of all means and abilities to jobs, services, and opportunities.”
• Work is ongoing on the Alderson Train Depo, with Copenhaver saying the “project won’t be done til February, … this is a major dollar investment. It’s one of the few places that have the handicapped accessibility that this does.”
• Council approved payment to Wiseman Paving for Phase 2C, totaling $169,050, for the work done on the Monroe Side of the river on the FEMA 2016 project up to now.