Low-income residents of Ocean View who may have been wondering how they were going to pay potentially thousands of dollars in hook-up costs for mandatory connections to the town’s new central water system may have gotten their answer at a Nov. 6 meeting of the town council.
The Sussex County Community Development and Housing Department presented information Tuesday on the state’s community development block grant (CDBG) program, which — in addition to making grants for housing rehabilitation — also provides grants for infrastructure improvements such as water and sewer.
Those who are full-time, permanent residents of Ocean View, with their property deeded in their name, are eligible for grant assistance for the entire costs of hook-ups if they have less than $15,000 in liquid assets (cash-value bank accounts such as savings) and meet income limits based on household size.
For example, a family of four with less than $44,100 in annual income and less than $15,000 in liquid assets would qualify for a grant under the program. A family of two would qualify with less than $35,250 in annual income. All income that would be included on federal income tax filings is considered for the income caps.
Those seeking the grants would have to apply and provide associated financial information to program administrators. They would then be scheduled for hook-up through certified plumbers.
The process is expected to take just a couple months from application to actual hook-up, particularly if the number of eligible applicants is as limited as town officials say they expect it to be. That number should be in the range of 20 to 25 households across the town, perhaps less.
Town Manager Conway Gregory said Tuesday that he planned to conduct a survey of residents to determine exactly how many are interested in applying.
Residents qualifying for the grants can allow the program to arrange for their hook-up or hire a certified plumber of their choice to make the hook-up and arrange for payment through the grants. That option could prove faster for many residents. Either way, the costs of the hook-ups are expected to be well under the maximum $2,500-per-household grant limit for those who qualify.
Those with questions about the grant program or who wish to apply should contact Gregory at town hall for more information.
Water system gets go-ahead for January startup
After months of good news/bad news presentations, Gregory announced Tuesday that he, finally, only had good news on the progress of the town’s water system.
At a hearing before the state’s Public Service Commission earlier on Tuesday, commissioners had granted the go-ahead for the town to purchase Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCNs) from Tidewater Utilities so that the town can legally serve some areas of the town now planned for its central water service.
“This will allow me tomorrow to tell A.P. Croll to commence with installing the water meters, proceed with the blow-out process and prepare the water system for our January deadline,” Gregory said.
The clearance from the PSC was the final thing holding up the last stages of system installation for the water system, leading up to a system start and hook-up clearance for individual properties sometime in January. Gregory said an exact date for the start had not yet been finalized.
Town Engineer Chuck Hauser of Davis, Bowen and Friedel has been working on developing a final rate structure for the system, taking into account the installation costs and debt service repayment that each property owner will pay a portion of with their water bills.
Gregory said he expected to have that fee structure to Town Solicitor Dennis Schraeder by the end of this week.
In the meantime, the town will be finalizing the purchase details for the CPCNs from Tidewater.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has provided grants and loans for the system installation, will also be visiting the town soon to do an inspection prior to its startup, as well as to begin the loan close-out process for the town.
Town resources have been paying the costs of the work by A.P. Croll to date, using the full amount of that loan. Once the loan is closed out, Gregory said, the town can also access about $500,000 in grant funding to complete the project. Gregory said he expected every bit of the $500,000 grant funding to be used.
Meanwhile, Gregory and other town staff members have begun training in water resource management, which is required for the ongoing maintenance of the town water system.
Utility permit fees to be reduced
Finally, council members on Nov. 6 also agreed to introduce at a future meeting an ordinance that would drop existing utility permit fees from $100 to $10, specifically to reduce the costs for those hooking up to the town water system in 2008.
The measure is designed to offset some of the costs of abandoning existing wells or converting them to agricultural use, as required by the town with the mandatory water hook-ups.
Council members considered specifying Tuesday that the reduction would be in place only until January of 2009, since the deadline for hooking up to the water system is the last day of 2008, but Schrader advised them to wait until they were closer to the end of that period before deciding whether to return the fees to $100 and, if so, when.
The ordinance could be produced for a first reading in December, in time for adoption prior to the January water system startup.