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County gets grant to connect water customers

The job just got a little bit easier for McDuffie County.

County Commissioners learned last week that the county will benefit from a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state of Georgia. The money will be used to connect rural residents to the county water system so that the county can benefit from $8.8 million in federal funding to expand the system.

Officials think the grant will not only help McDuffie County in the near future, but its affects will be felt for years to come.

"In the long run it's going to pay major dividends for us, as far as having that public infrastructure there," said County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton.

The county applied for USDA funding to extend the water system into several areas in the county, most notably the southeastern quadrant which consists of Dearing and Boneville.

For the project to get off the ground, 1,600 people had to sign up to connect to the county water lines. The county had hit a wall in recruiting new customers. The list of households signing up was about 300 short by last week when news of the CDBG came through.

Customers were complaining about the cost of the connection fee in addition to paying a plumber to disconnect their well and refit the house for municipal water. Now those fees can be paid by the grant.

"You're looking at somewhere between $500 and $600 those folks would have had to come out of pocket within one lump sum," Mr. Newton said. "A lot of folks in that area couldn't afford that one-time big expense like that. So this is going to hook those folks up that couldn't afford it."

"This is obviously quite an incentive for those people who really couldn't afford to sign up but wanted the water service to go ahead and tie in now," said County Manager Don Norton.

According to McDuffie County officials, increasing the infrastructure provides a safer, more reliable water source and invites residential, commercial and industrial development into the county. Mr. Newton said after the expansion is complete, 90 percent of residents will be able to have access to municipal water.

"We will have a good portion of our population covered by municipal water which I think says good things about the county," Mr. Newton said.

The expansion of the water system could also have financial benefits for residents. An expanded water system means more hydrants and increased fire protection. And that could lower insurance rates.

"These improvements that will be done through these various grants and loans will very possibly lower the homeowner's fire insurance rates somewhere in the vicinity of 30 or 35 percent," Mr. Norton said.

The expansion project could also improve the quality of the drinking water. According to Mr. Norton, there is currently more than enough water in the system, leaving water sitting and possibly becoming stagnant.

With new customers, water would move more rapidly through the system, increasing the quality that comes out of each faucet.

The CDBG was part of $38 million awarded to 79 Georgia communities. The grant program is administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs using funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Funding from the program improves economic opportunities and living conditions in cities and counties throughout the state.

"It was make or break on $8 million; that's what that block grant did," Mr. Newton said.

According to Mr. Norton, the entire water expansion project should be completed within two years.

Web posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004

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