The city’s Utilities Service Board on Wednesday voted to give $100,000 toward the city’s application a state Stellar Communities grant.
Mayor Joe Yochum asked board members to give $25,000 per year for the next four years, money that will go toward the $200,000 the city needs to raise in private match dollars should its effort to be named a Stellar community be successful.
“And it's only if we get it,” Yochum said. “Unless you still want to give us the money.”
And while USB members said they'd be inclined to just hang on to their money should the city not be successful, they're actually hoping they end up writing the check.
“This is quite a variety,” said USB chairman Mike Sievers as he read through a list of improvement projects proposed as part of the Stellar application, such as the expansion of the Riverwalk, a housing complex to be built on First Street at the site of the old grain silos and the transformation of the Gimbel Corner into an urban park.
“All of them would be great projects,” Sievers said.
New USB member Brian Johnson, too, said he was in support of giving the $100,000. There would be benefits, not only for the city but for the utility itself.
And Linda Lovell added her blessing as well.
“We all need to work together on this,” she said. “It's great to be able to support it.”
Ten state agencies — led by the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation — came together years ago to create the Stellar program, all of them pooling some of their financial resources to bolster Indiana cities, mostly with an emphasis on downtown areas.
Princeton, Huntingburg and Bedford have each been named as Stellar Communities, a designation that offers funds to be spent on quality-of-life improvements.
Yochum has said he will need at least $200,000 in private investment. He plans to ask other local utilities for money as well, and Vectren Corp. has already pledged dollars.
The city will need another $1.8 million in public dollars, and the mayor has proposed using money from several different funds and organizations, specifically the Urban Enterprise Association, the Redevelopment Commission and the city's share of Economic Development Income Tax dollars.
The city's application is due Aug. 25, with the announcement of the winner expected on Oct. 18.
In other business, the utility last month was delivered a harsh blow.
Kirk Bouchie, general manager of Vincennes Water Utilities, said crews with Precision Piping & Mechanical Inc., the Evansville company working on a $2.5 million upgrade of the city's Waste Water Treatment Plant on River Road, moved out on July 21, with the company ultimately filing for bankruptcy.
“They shut down operations that afternoon and filed bankruptcy the following week,” Bouchie told the USB. “It was quite a shock to anyone doing business with PPMI.”
Bouchie said PPMI was about 85 percent done with the local project, which was adapting the plant to better rid waste water of phosphorous, a chemical dangerous to aquatic life.
They were on schedule, he said, to be done well ahead of the November deadline.
Fortunately, Bouchie said the utility had both performance and payment bonds in place through an insurance company in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Representatives with that company, Bouchie said, have already sent an engineer to inspect the PPMI's work.
“And they've assured us the project will be completed at no additional expense to us,” Bouchie said. “They want to get it done as close to on schedule as possible.”
Bouchie said the insurance company will now take over and find a contractor to finish the job. Any additional expense incurred, he said, will be paid by the insurance company, not the utility.
Plant manager Josh Moore, too, said the city was “fortunate” in that the project was almost done. PPMI was working on another 15-20 projects at the same time, many of them not to the same state of completion.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management in 2015 placed stricter guidelines on phosphorous limits. The new standards are effective now, but the city was granted a three-year waiver to implement a new treatment process, which requires the purchase of additional equipment and adaptations to the existing facility to accommodate it.
That waiver expires in November.