Supervisors ready to help pay for sewer line extension

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By John Barnhart

    Bedford County’s supervisors may have decided last week to help fund an extension of sewer lines in Moneta.
    This would solve Moneta Elementary School’s failing septic system problem, although the proposal that District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington brought up at the very end of last week’s meeting, just a little before midnight, would treat it as an economic development measure and funnel the funds though the Economic Development Authority (EDA) instead of transferring the money to the school board.    
    Exactly what happened is a bit muddled.
    “They were getting ready to call for adjournment and I said, ‘Hey, we gotta do something’,” said District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin, in a phone interview.
    According to Martin, Arrington then made a proposal to provide funds through the EDA. Arrington had missed the 5 p.m. work session that preceded the regular meeting due to a work commitment and had been unable to weigh in on the budget discussion that took place during the work session.
    “This is going to be so business can come down there,” Martin said.
    Martin said this will make   that area more attractive to business. It will lower the cost of connecting to a public sewer line from half-a-million dollars to a few thousand dollars.
    “They [the other supervisors] didn’t want to give it to the schools,” Martin commented.
    “We looked at it as an option,” Arrington said in a phone interview about the assistance.
    Arrington said that it appears the sewer line extension project will cost between $270,000 and $300,00. He said the county’s school division has agreed to participate as a partner and the supervisors are looking at options to fund it. He said the supervisors agreed to participate in the project as an economic development issue.
    “We want to get bids on it first,” Arrington said. He said they have not yet voted on the actual amount they are willing to spend. That will have to wait until they know the actual cost.
    Did they commit to a specific amount?
    “We did not,” he said.
    The draft minutes of the June 9 Board of Supervisors meeting read:

    “Chairman Sharp received consensus from the Board to allocate as much as $100,000.00 to the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to fix the septic system at the Moneta Elementary School once a determination is made as to what the final costs will be (instead of giving the funds directly to the School Board for the project).  The Board also requested Mr. Aznavorian route his donation through the EDA as well for this project.”

    “It was very late,” said Board Chairman John Sharp about when the decision was made.
    Sharp said the board has not identified where the money will come from.
    “That needs to be discussed,” he said.
    Sharp is also not sure they actually reached a consensus on Arrington’s proposal because he believes it would have had to have been a unanimous decision. He said the supervisors will have to take official action next week.
    There is also a question as to how the vote went.
    “I thought that one came out 6-1,” Sharp said.
    “I thought it was 5-2 when I heard it,” commented George Aznavorian in a phone interview. Aznavorian, who has pledged $100,000 to the project, was at the meeting and stayed to the end.
    According to Martin, the vote came out 4-3 with Martin, Arrington, District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson and District 2 Supervisor Steve Wilkerson supporting the proposal, with Sharp, District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard and District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker voting against it.
    Aznavorian has pledged $100,000 for the project. He has also contacted the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department, the Moneta Rescue Squad and businesses in the area that would be able to connect to the sewer line extension.
    “They are all on board for connecting,” he said.
    “They all came back with a resounding ‘yes,’ they will connect to it,” he said.
    Aznavorian is working to set this up as a PPEA (Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act) project with three stakeholders each bearing one-third of the project.
    “It’s very transparent,” he said.
    Moneta Elementary school is in District 2 school board member Jason Johnson’s district. He said the school board is on board with the proposed public/private partnership.
    “At the same meeting where the board voted to not close Moneta Elementary, the majority voted to proceed with the sewer repairs,” Johnson said.
    “The board was cautiously optimistic that the county would buy into it,” Johnson added. He said that, early in the process, he, Aznavorian and Martin walked the route the sewer line would take.
    Johnson said it was discussed again at Thursday night’s school board meeting and the school board is hedging its bets.
    “Randy Hagler [the school divisions chief financial officer] was very insistent that we have the money set aside in case the public/private partnership doesn’t work out,” Johnson said.