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Council approves spending plan for federal money

Suffolk City Council has approved the spending plan for more than $30 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, largely leaving the same spending plan in place to perform stormwater, water and sewer infrastructure improvements and broadband projects as had been identified earlier this month.

“I think this is a very prudent way to use these funds. We’re advancing some projects that are already in our CIP,” said Mayor Mike Duman. “It’s also going to have an immediate effect on a lot of our underserved areas.”

Several speakers during a public hearing at the July 21 City Council meeting called for money to be spent for drainage improvements in Pughsville

The city will spend $20.5 million in projects to target sewer, water and drainage improvements in the Brown Lane to Shell Road area of Oakland, along with water and stormwater improvements in the Williamstown area, and stormwater improvements in Pughsville, Pleasant Hill and South Suffolk.

In Oakland, the city plans to spend $6 million on stormwater improvements, specifically introducing an improved drainage system, with the improvements coming over a three-year period

“It’s important to note that this funding coming in is a wonderful thing that we can improve the quality of life of a lot of people, but it’s not magic,” said Interim Deputy City Manager Kevin Hughes. “We still have to go through the procurement process, we still have to engineer things properly and construction, and there’s a process for all those things, and sometimes these things take time. Although the funding’s coming in, we still have to program as well as design these improvements.”

The city will also spend $2 million to finish a previously proposed Capital Improvement Program and Plan project to replace an older 2-inch water main with a 6- and 8-inch water main to improve water service for residents and fire service without impacting the water rate, Hughes said.

“What’s important that we’re looking at from a water and a sewer capacity standpoint is normally, those go to the water and the sewer enterprise fund,” Hughes said, “and so you’re looking at taking that burden on and that debt that would be issued in your water and sewer rate. With this funding coming in, we would not have to look at increasing the rate. We could take those on with this funding, make some people’s lives better, improve that and not have an impact to the greater rate of the citizens of the city of Suffolk.”

The city also plans to spend $6 million to expand Oakland’s sewer system and take people off of private septic systems without impacting the sewer rate. This project, Hughes said, is contingent upon an approved sewer petition by property owners in the area.

In Williamstown, the city plans to spend $1 million to replace an older 2-inch water main with an 8-inch water main on Third Avenue to improve water service to residents and fire service without impacting the rate. It also plans to improve the drainage systems to alleviate flooding on that road, since it is served by a wooden curb system. The project would include engineering and construction that would take place in the current and next fiscal year.

In the northern area of Pughsville, the city plans to spend $2 million — $700,000 in the current fiscal year and then $1.3 million in the next one — to improve the drainage system to help with flooding, and a large-scale project is currently under design through initial CIP money.

“The residents are very interested in seeing some significant stormwater improvements in the area,” Hughes said. “We believe we have the ability to move forward on some additional engineering and hopefully some construction versus what was previously. … Hopefully, we can bring relief to that area much faster than is currently programmed.”

Along sections of Lloyd Place, Bank Street, Fourth Street and Fifth Street, the city plans to bring in an improved drainage system to help with flooding, with $650,000 to be spent in the current fiscal year and $625,000 in the next.

“We believe we can have a pretty significant impact in those areas,” Hughes said.

In the South Suffolk and Mount Pleasant areas, the city would replace an older ditch drainage system with an improved one to help with flooding, targeting areas along Woodrow Avenue, Dill Road, Oxford Street, Webb Street and County Street, with the same amount, $1.275 million, being spent over the next two years.

A new project the city added is one to spend $1 million over the next three years to improve the drainage system in and around the 2000 block of East Washington Street.

Another $8 million will go to improve broadband in the city — $5 million toward a regional connectivity ring and $3 million for last-mile expansion of broadband in rural areas of the city.

Just over $1.5 million will go to various non-profit partners providing services to city residents, businesses and organizations negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. For that money, which City Manager Al Moor said can be spread out over five years, there will be an application process to include a detailed explanation and vetting of the proposed use of money.

The city is getting the money in two installments — about half of the total amount that came in June, and the other half in late June 2022. It has until Dec. 31, 2024, to completely obligate the money for a specific purpose, and the money must be completely spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

“As we look at the time schedules here, really, the key time schedule that we’re looking at is the first year,” Moor said, “because once we receive the second amount of funding, if we should be able to expedite work … it may not fall into the third year if it could be expedited.”

Councilman Roger Fawcett said that with many projects going on in a lot of localities, he is concerned about being able to complete them on an aggressive timeline.

“Obviously, we want to move as quickly as we can,” Moor said.

Moor said with some areas such as Oakland, which is a large design project, the city has annual consultants it doesn’t have to consult, and the city itself can do some of the work, such as some of the ditch or piping work, though it will need outside assistance to complete all of them.

“We wanted to keep our foot on the pedal as best we can,” Moor said. “But we need to make those key dates at the end, and I think we can do that.”