Members of the Knox County Council this week unanimously — and rather enthusiastically — threw their support behind town board members in Wheatland who want to undertake a major water upgrade.
Brett Dawson, Wheatland Town Council president, looked to the county council Wednesday for a loan of $115,000, money he plans to use to leverage a second, larger loan from the U. S. Department of Agriculture to kickstart a more than $5 million drinking water and sanitary sewer upgrade.
The community’s 3-member board has been working since February on the establishment of a totally new sanitary sewer system as well as upgrades to its aged drinking water infrastructure.
The town has never had a sewer system before; all residents are currently required to have their own septic tanks, which Dawson has said is stifling development.
“Having sewer infrastructure will open up so many opportunities for growth,” Dawson told the council. “It’s a stagnant time because there are restrictions on septic systems, especially in a town with such close quarters.
“There is no way for businesses to grow or for residents to expand. So our goal is to get our sewer and water redone and, hopefully, Wheatland will begin to grow, and we can add tax revenue.”
Councilman David Culp opened discussions on the loan proposal, expressing his support for helping Wheatland with the loan.
He pointed to a time about a dozen or so years ago, he said, when officials with the county parks department came to them asking for a loan to build a handful of cabins.
The county obliged, and the parks department built their cabins.
“They got their program done, paid us back the money and now they’re making money on the rentals,” Culp said.
Council president Bob Lechner, too, commended Wheatland’s initiative for taking on such a large project.
“Public service doesn’t always come easy,” he told Dawson.
Other council members agreed and, in the end, Lechner directed county attorney Andrew Porter to draft an inter-local agreement between Wheatland, the commissioners and the council, one that allows for a interest-free loan of $115,000 with stipulations that it be paid back by the end of 2022.
“This is going to leverage you a lot of dollars,” Lechner said.
Wheatland plans to use the money to pay for upfront engineering costs, enough to “shepherd the project through to design and construction,” an engineer with RQAW, one representing Wheatland, told the council.
Wheatland has been cited for years by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management — incurring thousands of dollars in annual fines — so the newly-constituted board decided early this year to remedy the problem once and for all.
The town board has hired Baker Tilly, a utility rate consulting firm and financial advisor in Indianapolis, to guide them through the process of establishing a new sanitary sewer rate to help pay both the USDA and the county back; the utility, too, will support the infrastructure once its done.
The current plan is to build the underground system of pipes as well as lift stations to get Wheatland’s waste water to Monroe City.
The treatment plant there only runs at about 30% capacity, and while no official request has been made, Dawson said town officials in both communities have embarked on initial discussions.
Wheatland officials, too, say upgrading the drinking water infrastructure is long overdue.
The underground lines are still the clay tile ones installed in the 1930s, Dawson has said, and they often break, costing thousands in maintenance each year.