Simms receives $450,000 grant for sewer system improvements through CDBG program
The Simms Sewer District has received a $450,000 award through the state’s Community Development Block Grant Program.
The funds will support the second phase of a massive project to bring the system that was built in the late 1970s up to modern standards, according to Jeff Carlisle, chair of the Simms Sewer District board.
The second phase includes reconstruction of the lagoons, which will be drained and cleaned; removing sludge; resizing and lining the lagoons, Carlisle said.
There are about 105 active users in town and more can connect to the system. For area residents within 200 feet of access to the sewer mains, they can connect to the system.
There’s an annual $440 fee for residential use, which is on the tax bill, but there’s also a levy to fund repairs and repayment of debt. Everyone in the district pays that levy whether or not they use the system, Carlisle said.
The system was well maintained, Carlisle said, but didn’t comply with modern regulations from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
When the Simms sewer system was installed in 1978-79, the user fee was $24 per month, or $288 annually. That rate remained the same until 2017 when it increased to $440 to help cover the cost of improvements. If the rates were increased again now for phase two, “it would be a super hardship,” Carlisle said.
The district struggled to come up with the funding and to conduct a special census to demonstrate that the Simms area qualifies for the low-income criteria under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s CDBG program.
“There’s absolutely no way,” Carlisle said, the locals could support the upgrades through user fees.
Without the CDBG money, if Simms had to divide the cost over 40 years among property owners, “it would make a huge increase on their levies or fees for services,” Carlisle said. “There’s just no way because the income isn’t there.”
The first phase of the project is nearing completion, Carlisle said. The district was selected for $750,000 through the Treasure State Endowment Program, but those funds were diverted during the Legislature’s special session last year to address the budget shortfall.
Carlisle said Simms should still get that funding in the near future.
Jennifer Olson, Division Administrator of the Community Development Division at the Montana Department of Commerce, said the state’s CDBG allocation is awarded to projects from cities, towns and counties for economic development, housing, public and community facilities and planning projects.
Billings, Missoula and Great Falls get their own CDBG allocation and are ineligible for CDBG grants through the state program, Olson said.
The grant program is designed to benefit projects and programs that will benefit low to moderate income populations.
Staff at the state Department of Commerce reviews and ranks applications and those go to the department’s director for approval. Local governments have to conduct public needs hearings to submit applications and there’s a public hearing and public comment period at the state level.
“We want people to chime in,” Olson said, and make sure the grant awards are reflective of community needs.