Three turned out to be the magic number for the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson. Senate bill 1381, ratified July 13, will pump $37.04 million into a North Carolina grant program for water, sewer and gas infrastructure improvements. It also caps individual grants at $3 million, total, over a three-year period — which would have prevented the Authority from seeking future grants, since it has received a total of $5 million in the last two fiscal years.
But local delegates to the General Assembly, spearheaded by Rep. Martin Nesbitt, crafted this special provision to ensure that the Authority has a chance to obtain future grants: Water districts that encompass three or more “government units” (that is, local city or county governments) can apply for and receive up to $3 million in any one fiscal year, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Mountain Xpress.
The Water Authority just happens to include three such “government units”: the city of Asheville, Buncombe County and Henderson County. “We’re hoping that the legal interpretation will allow the Regional Water Authority to apply for [future] grants,” says Asheville Water Resources Director Tom Frederick. He’s betting the Authority can apply as early as March 2001 for a share of the remaining $18.52 million (the other half of the new grant funds is available only to applicants whose requests are pending this year).
“Were it not for the efforts of our local delegates, we wouldn’t even have had the chance to apply [again],” Frederick said about what he called the “negotiations in Raleigh.”
On July 17, Frederick provided members of the Authority board with an update on SB1381, explaining that the State Infrastructure Council will be reviewing the distribution of grants and loans made in the last two years, “to determine the extent of geographic disparities and inequities.” He said, “In the first two years [of the grant program], a lot of the money went east.” The Council plans to complete its review before the March deadline for new grant applications.