City of Aiken receives $500,000 grant for water system upgrades

June 1, 2017 GMT

With aging infrastructure a pressing issue in this year’s City of Aiken budget, a state grant will provide a helping hand.

And it’s no drop in the bucket.

The S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority announced Tuesday the City was awarded a $500,000 grant.

It was among $13 million in grants awarded statewide for various water and sewer projects, and among 61 grants totaling $24 million in fiscal year 2017, a news release stated.

“Funding these infrastructure projects provides a path to stronger communities, helping set the table for economic development,” S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, who also serves as board chairman, said in prepared comments.

“Such investments in infrastructure support homes, schools and businesses across South Carolina and improve the quality of life for all who live, work and play in our state,” Hitt said.

The $500,000 grant will help augment the City’s $28.4 million effort to upgrade its aging infrastructure.

The plan calls for spending more than $16 million for water and sewer projects City engineers have designated highest priority. About $12 million is estimated for stormwater projects, the City has said.

Water and sewer money would largely come from low-interest rate loans and revenue bonds. Existing sources would cover the rest, the Aiken Standard has reported.

“We have a good bit of Capital Projects Sales Tax money available for water and sewer,” Kim Abney, the City’s finance director, told Council members during a budget work session Tuesday.

Additional bonds and grant money would help cover stormwater costs, the newspaper reported.

Rural Infrastructure Authority, or RIA, grants are awarded twice a year through a process that “considers the need for improved public health, environmental protection, community sustainability and economic development,” the agency said in a release.

Applicants are required to match funding requests. Criteria used to determine awards are based, in part, on severity of the problem, expected impact and project feasibility, the release stated.

In some areas of Aiken, the infrastructure is more than a century old, with some water valves in place since 1911, City officials have said.

And in Houndslake and Woodside, as well as in some places downtown, many corrugated pipes are more than 25 years old, former utilities and engineering manager George Grinton has said.

Aiken is planning to split the infrastructure work into three phases, with no tax or fee increases expected to fund the first phase. Details about phases two and three will be released in the future.

“The projects currently moving forward address the highest priority needs as determined through the use of a cutting-edge computer modeling survey conducted over the last year,” the City said in a news release.

“The list largely targets the oldest of the City’s water and sewer piping and valves, many of which are located in the downtown Aiken area.”

The City’s proposed $73.9 million budget greatly increases funding in the capital budget, increasing it from $9.68 million last year to nearly $27.6 million in 2017-2018.

Significant increases are proposed in the water and sewer, stormwater and transportation and public safety improvement funds, according to the budget.

Aiken City Council has already held first reading on the budget. Second reading and a public hearing are tentatively scheduled for June 12.