Meta aldermen pass on wastewater system proposal

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 3/22/23

META   —   Meta aldermen chose to wait until next year to seek federal funding for its wastewater system because the city’s share of the $16,560,000 project is too high at …

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Meta aldermen pass on wastewater system proposal


META    Meta aldermen chose to wait until next year to seek federal funding for its wastewater system because the city’s share of the $16,560,000 project is too high at 20-25%.

Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer’s legislative director, Megan Schmidtline, told aldermen at their last meeting there are a couple of options.

She explained that Congress brought back community project funding, what used to be called earmarks, a couple of years ago.

Alderman Steve Sherrell reached out to Luetkemeyer to see what help might be available.

The first option is to apply for a USDA Rural Development water waste disposal grant through the agriculture subcommittee. Schmidtline said this grant program is used to finance the acquisition, construction, or improvement of either drinking water sourcing, treatment, storage and disposal, sewer collection, transmission, treatment and disposal, solid waste collection disposal enclosure, and stormwater collection transmission enclosure.

Meta fits the criteria as a rural town with less than 10,000 residents. The city has not received any previous community project funding.

Schmidtline noted there is a 25% non-federal cost-share requirement, which means Meta would have to determine eligibility through the Missouri State Rural Development Office.

The other option is the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund through the Environmental Protection Agency. Meta is on the list for FY 23 through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which would have a 20% cost-share requirement.

“Do you think that you would be able to provide money for a cost share?” Schmidtline asked.

“Not right now,” Mayor Emily Sommerer replied.

“Not with this cost estimate,” Sherrell added.

“If you’re not able to do a cost-share, then we would likely not be able to move forward,” Schmidtline said. “We could reach out to DNR. I don’t know if there’s something that they would be able to help with, but the cost-share is a requirement.”

“Right now, we have applied for several grants, and if any of those come through, we’re going to be stretched pretty thin,” said City Clerk Deidra Buechter, noting residents approved a bond issue, but it’s nowhere near 20% of $16 million.

“I should have specified that we will not be able to ask for the full $16 million in grants,” Schmidtline said. “In the subcommittee, grants are typically on a smaller scale. So this might be able to help with a portion of the project, like a section that you need to update, but we won’t be able to cover the whole thing.”

Aldermen would need to determine the city’s top priority.

Schmidtline said it might be possible to get a lower cost-share because Meta is rural, but she will have to check to see what might be possible. Drinking Water and Wastewater are both options for the city.

Schmidtline asked aldermen to send her a priority list so she can tailor the EPA Drinking Water grant request.

Alderman Otto Wankum noted the cost of a new drinking water system would require a lot of money. He asked, “Communities such as ours just don’t have those dollars to match or contribute X percentage to do those kinds of projects. Is there a chance of getting a little more leeway for a community our size?”

Schmidtline said she would ask, but cost-share is not likely to drop. “Everything for community projects for eligible accounts we’re considering has been federally authorized,” she added. “So, the cost-share is what it is because of how it is written in federal law, and they’re being very strict about going by the law.”

Sherrell pointed out the city had a 41% water loss last month. “That’s how bad our system is,” he added.

“If we’re able to work something out, to move forward with a project, do you all have the ability to have someone that will be able to maintain an updated system, whether it be wastewater drinking water?” Schmidtline asked. “The Congressman and I met with the Missouri Rural Water Association a couple of weeks ago. We did bring you all up in our conversation to see if there were any resources available. That could be helpful. They had said they’d sent someone out previously, and they found a leak. Unfortunately, the leak was still there six months later, and I think they’ve given directions on how to repair it. So, I want to make sure that if we’re able to work something out, and you’re able to get an updated system, do you have the capability to maintain it so this doesn’t happen again?”

Buechter agreed that maintenance was feasible but said she was unaware of the leak to which Schmidtline referred. “As far as we know, all of the leaks they have pointed out have been fixed,” she said.

“I wonder if they were alluding to our water loss percentage,” said Wankum. “There is a leak, but we’re not able to identify where that leak is located. Not always does that water bubble up on the ground; sometimes it runs down half a mile and then comes out on the ground.”

“And we’ve actually been trying to get them down here for over a year to go meter to meter to help us find leaks. I’m really disappointed that they would tell you that when we’ve not been able to get them down here.”

“This is really helpful,” Schmidtline replied. “Again, I’m just trying to piece stuff together. The Congressman really wants to see what we can do to be helpful on this. We’re looking at all branches of possibility, so that was the only reason we had reached out to see if they had other resources that could be helpful. I will be sure to update the Congressman.”

Schmidtline added that she would keep aldermen apprised of developments.

With a deadline of March 24, the timeline is very tight.

As such, Schmidtline offered to start the process for next year’s funding cycle.

“I think that might be more realistic,” Buechter said.

Mayor Sommerer agreed. “I feel like that’s a lot of big decisions in a very short time,” she said.

“I think, realistically, we’ll just need to start for next year,” said Buechter. “We’ll take the information this time so the board knows what is expected next year because this is all brand-new. I think it’s a little scary for such a small amount of revenue in our city for the board to make decisions that quickly.”

Alderman Ivie Helton suggested the board try to earmark some money during the budget process in May. She noted that the city might know by then if any of the grants for which Meta applied have been approved. “If we get any of those, we’ve already promised a match,” she said. “Then, we can look at what’s feasible for what we have out there and make some decisions along the way.”