Officials Look To Usda To Help With Water, Waste Issues

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Community residents and public officials recently met with federal agency representatives for information on solving issues of water supply and sewage disposal that have become heated topics in the Rim Country.

Rim Country water district officials are hoping that federal grants can address problems of water hauling, water shortages and moratoriums on new hookups.

Past water shortages, which resulted in water hauling and associated charges in towns like Pine and struggles to find an acceptable long-term source of water, might get some help in the form of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Program grants and direct or guaranteed loans, USDA representative Steve Langstaff said.

Most people think of the USDA as an organization that deals with farms, agriculture and crops, but they also offer assistance to communities in the areas of utilities, housing and business.

Among the roughly 50 people who attended the April 15 meeting at town hall were mayor-elect Kenny Evans, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Director John Stanton and Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement Secretary Richard Dickinson and board member Ron Calderon.

Grant and loan amounts depend on what communities request and need, but millions of dollars are available to communities like Payson, Star Valley, Pine and Strawberry through USDA's rural development programs, Langstaff said.

Water district officials in Pine, Strawberry and Star Valley want to buy out water companies serving those communities.

With populations between 2,000 and 3,000, those communities might qualify for USDA assistance, Langstaff said.

Solving water delivery problems isn't the only issue in the Rim Country; waste disposal has recently received attention as well.

News of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District's plans to discontinue accepting septic and grease trap waste on July 1 has left some area residents and restaurant owners wondering if waste haulers in the area will continue providing the service and how much it will cost.

Charlie Hall, owner of Wrangler Plumbing recently said he will probably have to double what he charges to haul septic and grease trap waste because he will have to take it to Globe now.

Small towns can qualify for direct or guaranteed loans through USDA for water and wastewater systems and grants for up to 75 percent of eligible project costs for water and waste disposal systems.

Another topic of recent discussion at town council meetings in Payson has been affordable housing for working people.

The median income for a household in Payson is about $34,000, but the average cost of a home is about $220,000.

Consequently, some working people are left with few options, although rural housing programs again might offer relief.

The USDA offers housing assistance "to improve the quality of life for rural Americans by ensuring that they have access to safe, well-built, affordable homes."

The meeting was to offer information to residents and community officials.

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