Special session cuts affect Stanford water project

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Special session budget cuts have decreased grant funding for the Stanford Drinking Water Project. Stanford Clerk and Treasurer Amanda Kelly was notified earlier this month that the town’s $500,000 Treasure State Endowment Program (TSEP) grant was being reduced to $276,921.

Kelly said the almost 50 percent decrease was a large loss, but she was confident the project would still happen.

“The cut would be a big deal due to the fact it’s free money, and the fact it might mean the town having to borrow money,” she said. “Our one saving grace is when we first began, we knew we had to borrow a significant amount of money.”

Kelly was referring to the project’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) loans. Administered by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the program provides loans at or below market rates for Montana communities with water pollution control or drinking water projects.

DEQ Engineering Specialist Robert Ashton explained how the SRF program could help with Stanford’s grant reduction.

“We’re kind of a filler, where we make up what they [the community] can’t do,” he said. “We don’t want to give them any more or less than that.”

Although loan amounts are not official until the post-project-bid loan closing, Ashton said Stanford’s project is on the docket for two SRF loans. Before the special session, Loan A was set at $360,000 and Loan B was at $370,000.

Ashton went on to explain the program decided to forgive loan A, meaning the Stanford Drinking Water Project would receive the money but not have to pay it back.

Now, he said, the SRF program could be a “filler” and increase Loan B by the amount cut from the TSEP grant. What originally was a surprise savings for project would now go towards keeping it in the black.

Ashton said Loan B could be increased to roughly $600,000.

“We can up our loan to cover that cost that you lost,” he said.

Kelly is also hopeful the Stanford Drinking Water Project will be able to recoup some of the lost TSEP grant. She spoke to state staff members who said the project could possibly reapply for the funding, and do so using a simpler application process.

“She said it will be kind of like I’ll receive a notification … asking us if want additional funding, and, of course, we’ll say yes,” Kelly said.

A conference call including all of the project’s organizers, engineers and funding sources is planned for Jan. 24, and will help finalize any adjustments, according to Kelly.

Emilie Ritter Saunders, communications director for the Montana Department of Commerce, said last November’s special legislative session reduced TSEP funding by $7.5 million. The cut eliminated TSEP grants for 13 communities, and reduced them for two, including Stanford.

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