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Hall's cities aiming for their share of federal Rescue Plan funds

A massive federal funding pool is available for local governments to upgrade broadband, sewer systems and other infrastructure improvements, and some cities in Hall County are trying to take advantage of this one-time opportunity.

Oakwood is applying for $1 million worth of sewer improvements; Braselton wants $1.3 million for new wells and a pump station; and Lula is seeking nearly $700,000 to make up for losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to extend its sewer lines. 

Georgia received $2.4 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act money on May 20, and is set to receive a total of about $4.8 billion once its expected second payment hits March 2022. Local governments received some direct ARPA funds last March

This latest grant is funded through ARPA funds and distributed by the state Office of Planning and Budget. The grant, called State Fiscal Recovery Funds, will allow any city, county or other special jurisdiction in the state to apply to fund eligible infrastructure projects.

Some local city officials see this as a one-time opportunity. 

“It’s definitely unusual,” Braselton City Manager Jennifer Scott said. “I think it’ll probably be the only time we see something like it. …  This isn’t what (the Office of Planning and Budget does), so it’s a whole new process to have this kind of funding available and have it go through the state OPB office.” 

Braselton is applying for $800,000 for a new pump station facility that would cost a total of $1.85 million with the city matching the rest of the cost and $416,500 of grant money for new wells that would service roughly 30,000 people, Scott said. The wells’ total cost would be $1.04 million with the city supplying the rest of the funding. 

The sewer and water projects would get done with or without the grant money, Scott said, but a successful application would free up other ARPA funds the city already received. 

Grant applications are scored on several criteria including local matching funds, project design, implementation and performance measures, according to the grant application. But Scott said she doesn't know how competitive their application will be, because it’s the first of its kind.

In January 2020, Lula was set to replace an aging pump station and septic tanks with a new sewer line that would cost $2.38 million, but the project was delayed due to the pandemic. When new housing developments weren’t built over the past year and a half, the city lost about $565,000 in revenue, because it didn’t receive the water and sewer fees that would have come with new development, according to its grant application. 

Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said expansions at Magnolia Station and Waterford Glen stalled during the pandemic, and homes there were being put under contract quickly once built. The city also adjusted the price of the sewer line in July because of rising construction material costs, which will add an additional $127,914.

To offset these losses, Lula is applying for nearly $700,00 of grant funds, with the city supplying $1.68 million. 

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Bergin said. “We’re fortunate to be in the position we’re in, because we can go forward with this project right away. … We’re lucky to have real numbers, and we’re not having to guess at everything, which we think puts us in a pretty good position.”

Officials from Flowery Branch and Buford said they were applying for grant funding for water and sewer improvements but had not finalized details yet. The application deadline is Oct. 31. 

Hall County and Gainesville also applied for huge grants through this fund in recent weeks for affordable housing options, water/sewer and broadband. 

Local governments are expected to receive a decision on their grant applications early next year. 

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