Grant helps fund utility lines

Whispering Pines residents will be able to hook up to Okeechobee Utility Authority with no hookup fees thanks to a Community Development Block Grant and the county’s agreement with the Okeechobee Utility Authority.

At its June 26 meeting, the Okeechobee County Commission approved a revision that will allow all residents in the service area to hook up of income level.

According to the staff report, the county received a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). The grant budget contains $60,000 for administration, including grant writing. The county awarded the remaining $690,000 to the Okeechobee Utility Authority (OUA) to finance the Whispering Pines water extension project.

Roumelis Planning and Development Services Inc. will assure the county’s oversight of the project relating to OUA compliance with the county-DEO grant agreement.

OUA has awarded a construction contract to PRP Construction Group LLC, in the amount of $868,470. The grant modification approved Tuesday will limit the county’s $690,000 contribution to the infrastructure costs (installing new water lines with fire hydrants) in the original CDBG project area.

As originally agreed, OUA will be responsible for all remaining project costs, which will include infrastructure, residential connections to the water system and engineering. OUA will also honor its pledge to waive fees associated with the residential connections for this project (except account deposits), the staff report continues.

OUA’s financial contributions will count as the county’s “leverage” funds for the grant.
The bid amount of the private connections (hookups) is $98,728, including all residences, income-eligible and non-eligible.

CDBG would not pay for any hookups without the required eligibility documentation and affordable rental agreements. However, OUA and the county want all potential customers to receive the water hookups, regardless of income. This 100 percent connection plan is permissible using OUA-only funds, the staff report continued.

Making the hookups available to everyone with no strings attached, as a “one-time offer,” would likely enhance the voluntary participation rate for connections, states the staff report. The goal of connecting all income-eligible residents to the new water lines would still be met by Okeechobee County/OUA, but without regard to income eligibility. OUA would simply provide the offer of a no-charge hookup to all property owners in the service area, using OUA funds.

In other business at the county commissioners’ June 26 meeting, Michelle Yochim-Rowley was appointed to the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center Advisory Board.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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