Liberty Town Council invited representatives from a variety of consulting firms working on a proposed water main project to its Feb. 1 meeting to present information and answer questions.

Liberty utility superintendent Matt Reuss introduced Michael Kleinpeter, president of grant writing firm Kleinpeter Consulting LLC; Adam Sitka, project manager with Wessler Engineering; and Alex Hilt, CPA with financial advisory firm Baker Tilly; all of whom are working on the proposed project.

Kleinpeter presented first, detailing the grant side of the project. LTC hopes to obtain a $700,000 grant through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The grant requires the service of a certified grant administrator; Kleinpeter has five certified grant writers on staff and has worked on several programs in Union County.

One of the first steps of the process is an income survey of the residences impacted by the project. Kleinpeter will be sending out surveys to those residences soon. He asks any residents receiving a survey to fill out the form and return it with the included postage-paid envelope.

The next step is a preliminary engineering report, which is being performed by Wessler. An environmental review will be performed by Kleinpeter. A proposal must be submitted by April 29. OCRA will perform a site visit and the application finalized June 25. OCRA will announce awards in early August. If accepted, the engineer will complete the final design, ask for bids in March of 2022, begin construction May 2022 and finish in December 2022.

Sitka spoke next, explaining the specifics of the water mains. The project pinpoints the most problematic water mains in the community, addressing small mains that are below current state standards and old pipe material. Half of the mains on the project are made of asbestos/cement, which cause issues when they break. While the asbestos does not pose a concern from a consumption standpoint, it does for workers repairing the line. The cement in the line causes its own problems; once it breaks, it will continue to break, and is very difficult to permanently repair. Those mains will be replaced with ductile iron.

Hilt brought information about how the town will fund its share of the project, estimated at $1.4 million. The town’s general fund is in good shape and is able to provide a no-interest loan to the water utility, at a significant saving compared to an outside loan. Not only will the town save money on interest, but also fees.

Hilt explained the water utility is currently running pretty close to a break-even point, making it difficult to pay the loan back into general. In order to facilitate the loan costs, they will be looking at a 2-3% adjustment to water rates. Liberty clerk-treasurer Melissa Shepler asked for advice on when to begin the rate adjustment process. Hilt replied they will need to take a closer look at the final 2020 numbers and could get the rate adjustment into effect mid-year.

Kleinpeter returned to the floor and discussed the likelihood of receiving the grant.

“It boils down to are we competitive enough to get funding,” said Kleinpeter.

OCRA scores each project on a number of aspects; some are set in stone, others can be impacted by decisions made by council. The minimum score to be eligible for funding is 450. OCRA will grant funding to the highest scoring project and move down the line until either funds are exhausted, or all eligible projects are funded. 

Kleinpeter estimates the score of the project at 524. Typically, most projects scoring above 475 or 500 are funded. However, COVID-19 has impacted the most recent round of funding, pushing the threshold up some. Regardless, 524 is a competitive score. Kleinpeter added if the project does not receive funding, they can change the application, based on feedback from OCRA, and apply again in November.

Councilman Keith Bias made a motion to move forward with the income survey. Councilman Dereck Tipton seconded the motion and the board voted to approve.