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USDA: Elkins can spend $300K of unused funds

ELKINS — Elkins City Council learned that more than $300,000 in unused funds from the city’s water plant construction project can now be used to purchase “much-needed” water department equipment.

The new $37-million water plant went online and began pumping water in 2018. Melody Himes, the city’s interim operations manager, said she and other city employees were “very excited” to learn that the project’s leftover funds can be used to purchase the new equipment.

“It was quite a challenge, getting things completed to close out the water project, and up until recently I didn’t know how much money” was left over, Himes said during Thursday’s Elkins City Council meeting.

“We didn’t have to send anything back, it’s a loan from USDA funds,” she said. “All the project costs have been paid and any remaining funds would be deobligated. The remaining amount would be applied to the loan amount, which was $311,333.97.

“So I was a bit disturbed when I saw that number, because I knew we hadn’t seen it, and we had some equipment that was approved to purchase with that leftover funding,” Himes said.

In February 2020, council unanimously approved applying to the United States Department of Agriculture for permission to use the remaining funds from the water plant project for various other water-system expenditures.

Himes said she reached out to the USDA’s Charlotte Wales for guidance on the issue. Himes read council an email from Wales that was sent to Wales on Thursday.

“I spoke to (USDA Community Programs director) Janna Lowery about the whole situation about the city and the remaining funds,” the mail from the USDA read. “She and I agreed that we would request one more short extension for this project in order to get these additional items purchased if the city still wants to.

“So if the city would like to use the remaining $311,425 to make the small equipment purchases … we can get the city a one-month extension to gather the required documentation,” the email continued. “By Oct. 18 I will need the specifications for the equipment, three quotes and a letter signed by the mayor requesting the items and stating that it will be the final request for funds usage, and any remaining funding can be deobligated.”

Himes said of the email, “I think it was the best part of my day, or maybe month.”

Himes told council work has already begun to meet the Oct. 18 deadline.

“The water department has already started getting quotes and writing up specifications for that, so we can move on purchasing that equipment,” Himes noted.

The city hopes to replace the water department’s backhoe with a new excavator, which will cost $140,000, and purchase a valve exerciser for the water department to enable regular valve inspection and more effective pipe flushing.

Mayor Jerry Marco noted, “With the number of water breaks that we’ve had this year, this equipment is desperately needed.”

The leftover funding can be used only for expenditures for the water system. The only option for this money besides using it for projects like these would be using it to reduce the overall loan term, according to a city press release. Using the money this way will not affect water rates.

Former Operations Manager Bob Pingley resigned his position in August, after being placed on leave with pay earlier in the month. He had served as the city’s operations manager since April 2008.

City officials declined to give any details about the Pingley situation, with Personnel Committee Chairman Rob Chenoweth telling The Inter-Mountain it was a personnel matter and no further information could be disclosed publicly.

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