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City again denied sewer-repair grant

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Cannelton mayor turns to Indiana 15 for third bid

CANNELTON - Cannelton's mayor is turning to another source to help the city obtain a grant to fund repairs to its sewer systems after he announced at a common-council meeting Monday a second attempt had failed.

Mayor Smokey Graves said he received notice last week "that we didn't make the cut," although "the city totally did what they were required to do" in an application submitted in March.

Saying all of the paperwork submitted by the city was in order, he assigned blame to the presentation by Jeff Pruitt, now working for the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. The city's application was scored the same as its first attempt, Graves noted, even after the council pledged to increase the city's share of the cost by $5,000.

The council learned in December their first request to the state's Office of Community and Rural Affairs for $345,000 of the total $384,000 cost for three projects had been denied. Among repairs to be made with the money is rehabilitation of the forced main delivering sanitary sewage to Tell City for processing and remediation of two flash-flooding areas in the city. The city's required 10-percent match was to have come from sewer-department and economic development income tax funds.

"Our sewer rate is an issue," Graves told the council. "We haven't changed them since 2002."

He and Clerk-Treasurer Arvina Bozarth explained after the meeting Cannelton was cited by officials reviewing the application for failing to maintain sewer rates in line with other cities and towns its size.

Bozarth said the state officials said Cannelton failed to meet a benchmark, "but no one told us what the benchmark is."

The sewer rate "probably should have been upped incrementally," Graves said, adding "it's about burying your head in the sand. Someone has to stick their neck out and take responsibility for it."

As The News reported in July 2006, then-Clerk-Treasurer Mary Snyder suggested raising sewage rates a little at a time to avoid having to make increases later that would hit residents harder. "Rather than wait a few years and have a huge increase," she urged, city leaders should bump rates upward in smaller increments.

The 2002 rate hike was in the 60-percent range, Sewer Department Superintendent Jerry Ball said Tuesday, and was imposed after 13 years without an increase.

Then-councilman Steve Bennett suggested last year the city await the results of a study of the storm-sewer system, which was to include an examination of the possibility of establishing a separate storm-water utility and rates to fund it.

Pruitt said Tuesday he didn't think Graves intended to fault him for the disapproval.

"There are a few factors they'll have to work on to get a higher score," he said. The sewer rate was one issue, he said, but a lack of public participation was another.

The News reported Feb. 25 Graves was seeking letters from city residents and pictures documenting sewer-system problems. Responding to a request from Bozarth, The News published another plea on its Web site several days ahead of the application's deadline.

"We asked for more public participation," Pruitt said. "We didn't get it, so there wasn't much they could add to the application. It wasn't for lack of trying; we just didn't get much public response that would have raised the score."

Graves said he has asked city attorney Chris Goffinet to provide advice on incorporating automatic increases into the sewer rate, and that he has turned to the Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission to help with the next submission. Executive Director Lisa Gehlhausen is "5-for-5" in securing these type grants, he said, while Pruitt is "0 for 2."