Chambers County commissioners discuss Rescue Plan funds

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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At their work session on Monday, the Chambers County Board of Commissioners discussed how Chambers County could use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Two specific uses discussed were modifying HVAC systems and water and sewer projects.

The commission discussed modifying HVAC systems in main courthouse complex, the courthouse annex, and the Chambers County Jail. However, county engineer Josh Harvill said the county’s only been asked to identify two buildings for improvements.

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“If you want to stick with where the largest congregation of the public is and stick with the courthouse and the annex, we could then tell them we want them to make a trip to the old jail,” he said. “But that’s third if that’s what you all want them to do.”

He said that once the county submits which buildings to modify, an architect from JMR+H Architecture, PC will come on-site.

“And what they’re going to do is they’re going to determine whether the existing ventilation system adequately protects against COVID-19, whether the system can be renovated to meet COVID-19 mitigation standards, or whether the system would need to be replaced in order to meet COVID-19 mitigation standards,” he said.

Harvill said the architect’s company would then provide a summary of next steps for the county, including recommendations for mitigation measures to bring buildings’ ventilation systems into compliance with CDC guidelines. They would also provide a cost estimate.

While the county isn’t required to optimize its ventilation systems against COVID-19, Harvill said it was simply something it could use ARPA funds for.

Courthouse Maintenance Supervisor Ronald Sessions said he thought the county should focus on the main courthouse and jail. He said modifying the HVAC systems in these places may involve replacing filters and installing UV lights.

Commission Chairman Debra Riley said IAC had identified LaBella Associates to oversee and guide the county through water and sewer projects.

County Attorney Skip McCoy said if the county were to pursue water and sewer projects, it would be dealing with the Chattahoochee Water Supply District, which supplies and sells water to East Alabama Water Sewer & Fire Protection District and Huguley Water. He said Huguley Water wants to do a project on its water tank, while East Alabama Water wants to expand its service area.

Harvill explained the requirements for the projects to qualify for ARPA funds, as stated by IAC and LaBella. He said that if a water provider tries to increase its capacity, such as by changing the size of a water line or adding a new water line, so as to provide an adequate level of service for existing customers and/or to increase drought resilience, as documented in an engineering report, then the project is eligible for ARPA funds.

Harvill said LaBella would help the county know which projects were eligible for ARPA funds.

Commissioner James Williams said that the county should make a decision that would benefit the underserved. He passed out a letter from 2005 from East Alabama Water to Chambers County sanitarian Andy Adams about the presence of bacteria in drinking water wells in the Suttonville area.

“I think if we start this project, we need to have our hands in it from the design to the finished product,” Willaims said.

Harvill said that a new water system to address unsafe drinking water from individual wells, documented in engineering reports from a public health agency, is an eligible use of ARPA funds as long as the project is limited to the affected area. He recommended using ARPA money on projects that need to be done in the next year.

“The proposal method that Skip mentioned earlier, I think that’s the direction we should go,” Harvill said. “You do need to give these guys some idea of what you plan to invest in. I think they need to know that because they don’t really know how big the picture is and what types of projects to look at unless you give them a general idea of what you’re looking at investing in.”

According to Harvill, ARPA funds have to be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Riley said ARPA funds could also be spent on administrative costs.