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Officials seek sewer project restart

Lincoln County officials are drafting a new agreement withBrookhaven aldermen that will allow a stalled project to extendsewer services to an annexed community in the city.

County Attorney Bob Allen is preparing an interlocal agreementbetween supervisors and aldermen that will clearly define the $1.2million sewer installation as the city’s project. Supervisorsagreed last August to channel a $600,000 Mississippi DevelopmentAuthority grant to the city – which would pay the match andundertake the project – but complications in the initial agreementthat identified the job as a county project and made supervisorsliable have held up construction.

“We do this with the city, and what we’ve traditionally done iswe get the grant and then it’s their baby – we have nothing to dowith it,” Allen said. “Once I realized it was going to be thecounty’s project, that means we’re responsible for bidding the job,the contract … and paying monthly estimates. If they run intoproblems, that’s going to be the county’s call.”

The project is designed to provide sewer service to around 50homes in the Ole Brook community in the southeast corner of the2007 annexation area of the city, where no sewer service previouslyexisted and many residents rely on septic tanks. Former mayor BobMassengill identified the area as being in critical need of newsewer services.

The project is meant to be entirely a city affair, with thecounty simply issuing the grant funds to the city in a show oflocal cooperation. Brookhaven was ineligible to receive the grantbecause it had already been awarded an almost $500,000 CommunityDevelopment Block Grant in 2008 for the construction of thedeveloping Jimmy Furlow Senior Citizens Center, so supervisorsagreed to go after the funding on the city’s behalf.

Supervisors, though, aren’t going to accept responsibility for acity project -responsibility that would require the county to paycost overruns, change orders to the project or carry the burden forbigger problems.

“All of these things don’t usually happen, but since they havehappened (in the past), it’s my job to make sure you’re covered,”Allen told supervisors Tuesday. “I’m having to make certain not anickel of Lincoln County money goes into the project except thegrant.”

Allen said the confusion first became apparent when cityengineers with Williford, Gearhart and Knight, Inc., came tosupervisors seeking payment for nearly $200,000 worth of planningand design costs, costs that grant rules stipulate must be paidwith local matching funds and not grant money. When it wasdiscovered that, as is, the county would be required to pay thefees, the sewer project was halted.

Allen said engineers would not start working without a signedcontract, and no contract would be issued until the matter iscleared up in the pending interlocal agreement.

Creating the complex agreement has taken time, he said, and italso involves a fair bit of legal work. Since there is no statutoryauthority for interlocal agreements on sewer systems, Allen saidhe’s “stretching” the agreement to fall under the authority forroadways since the project will require several city streets to betorn up and resurfaced.

“I don’t want to enforce an agreement that says the city isgoing to pay unless the agreement is perfect,” he said.

Time is becoming a critical factor in the sewer project,however. Jim Mangum, a planner with Natchez-based SouthwestMississippi Planning and Development District – which helpedsupervisors secure the MDA grant last year – urged county officialsto speed up the process Tuesday.

“We need to get last year’s CDBG project, which was funded, offthe ground,” he told supervisors. “It’s been a year now. It’s badoverdue to be in the construction phase.”

The faster SWMPDD-aided projects begin and are “closed” on theorganization’s sheets, the more points it’s awarded when beingconsidered for future grants for communities in its 10-county area,Mangum explained Thursday.

“It’s very important to move these things forward,” he said.