SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Commissioners revisited the issue of the Lagoon Drive Consolidated Facility project on Tuesday to reconsider submitting a pre-application for USDA funding. The commissioners voted 4-1 to submit the pre-application to see eligibility for the USDA loan program.
The Commissioners previously voted against submitting a USDA Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program pre-application in a 3-2 decision. Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld expressed concerns at that time about using staff time seeking funding for a project that has been placed on hold until 2021.
However, they decided to reconsider the submission after Gene Legerski, Public Works Director, pointed out its his job to seek funding sources for county projects.
The total cost of the facility is about $21 million. One part of the consolidated facility is the public works department building, and the other part is the wildland fire department. The public works department would be 36,315 square feet, and the wildland fire department would be 21,405 square feet.
Krisena Marchal, Sweetwater County Grants Manager, said last year only about $100,000 was available in USDA grants and that Sweetwater County would not be eligible for one of the grants due to the median income for residents in the county. Instead, the pre-application will be to see eligibility for the loan program. It will not tell them how much money the county will be eligible for.
According to Marchal, the current interest rate for a USDA loan is 2.5 percent. Legerski said there could be matching funds the county would be responsible for, however, they will not know how much until they go through the application process. He said it could be up to $15 million. Legerski said regardless, the loan could bring down the cost even if they don’t know how much yet.
“This is just a win-win situation, and a way to look for other funding opportunities,” Legerski said.
Chairman Randy Wendling and Commissioners Wally Johnson, Roy Lloyd, and Jeff Smith voted for the submission, while Commissioner Schoenfeld voted against it.
The commissioners also voted 4-1 to submit the letter of suspension of the project to the contractors, following the completion of the design drawings and obtainment of permits.
Commissioner Johnson first moved to submit the letter to suspend just the wildland fire facility portion of the project, rather than in its entirety. This would have allowed the county to go out to bid the public works facility portion.
Commissioner Schoenfeld pointed out the board previously voted 3-2 to postpone the entire project, however, Sweetwater County Deputy Attorney John DeLeon said they could still legally postpone just a portion rather than the project at large. Schoenfeld spoke against postponing only a portion, believing now is still not the time for this project considering the economic hardships the county and state are facing, and the fact that the county does not qualify for a USDA grant.
“This project just keeps coming back,” Commissioner Schoenfeld said. “I am still firmly against moving forward with this project unless it’s free.”
Commissioners Johnson and Smith voted for submitting the letter of suspension of the wildland fire facility portion of the project, while the other three commissioners voted against it. The commissioners then voted 4-1 to submit the letter of suspension to the contractors for the project in its entirety, Commissioner Johnson being the only vote against it.