Federal agency refuses to return money to Carroll

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Rural Development ordered the county to give back $280,000 for not meeting a grant requirement

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Rural Development officials, after clawing back approximately $280,000 from the Fancy Gap sewer project for an overlooked environmental report, have so far refused to return the money to the Carroll Public Service Authority.
After the authority members went into a closed session at their regular December meeting on Monday to discuss the situation with Rural Development, they talked about continuing their appeal to the federal funding agency.

The issue at hand involved an extension of the Fancy Gap sewer project to Joy Ranch Road, paid for out of Rural Development funds to build a utility project in the area including Interstate 77’s Exit 8 and the Blue Ridge Parkway intersection.
Federal officials sent a demand letter for the Carroll authority to repay the funds spent on the sewer extension because an environmental report had not been done.
Carroll officials complied, and then asked the federal government to return the funds in question.
The topic of losing the funds came up at both the authority meeting and the regular December board of supervisors meeting.
In an update to the Public Service Authority in open session, County Administrator Gary Larrowe touched briefly on the Joy Ranch Road issue. The authority has appeal rights to the Rural Development decision, he said.
“We have 30 days to appeal to the national office on that and we need to know what the authority’s thoughts may be...” the county administrator said.
“I think we need to follow those up with whatever options we have, whatever actions, we need to do to do that...” said PSA member David Hutchins, offering to make a motion to that effect.
All the authority members voted yes on the motion.
PSA Chairman Tom Littrell confirmed after the meeting that Rural Development declined the authority’s first request to reconsider the clawback.
Rural Development “has declined to reverse their decision based on an informal administrative review,” Littrell told The Gazette in an e-mail. “We were informed we could proceed to option 2, which is a national appeal.
“The PSA continues to explore all options available to us. The informal administrative review is not considered an appeal.”

Are supervisors overseeing too much?
Did divided attentions among Carroll officials lead to the loss of $280,000 in federal funding from the Fancy Gap sewer project?
That’s the question raised by the Laurel Fork supervisor at the county board meeting Monday.
“This is not anything other than a question that I would like to pose to the board and the [Public Service Authority] members,” said Josh Hendrick, reacting to the clawback of Rural Development funding provided to the Fancy Gap sewer project.
The federal authorities sent a demand letter telling the authority to repay the money used to build a sewer extension to Joy Ranch Road, because of an overlooked environmental report.
“We have a lot of folks that wear a lot of different hats,” Hendrick said. “Gary [County Administrator Gary Larrowe] is a perfect example of that — he does a little bit of everything.”
Ever since Hendrick has been on the county board, he’s had questions about “folks trying to be in so many places at one time that we stretch some of our resources thin.”
He included both supervisors who serve a dual role on the Public Service Authority, as well as county administration that works for both groups, in his concerns.
“With the latest call back [of funding], the question’s come to my mind is, have we stretched people too thin?” Hendrick asked.
The $280,000 is a “pretty good chunk of change” for an environmental assessment that was overlooked, he said.
Hendrick doesn’t agree with more than one supervisor being on both the county board and the utility authority.
That doesn’t mean that Hendrick doesn’t think that any supervisor is not qualified to served on the authority, but he knows they stay busy.
“I know my schedule — I don’t know anyone else’s schedule — but I’ve got enough stuff to do on my own and enough stuff to do on this board that I don’t want to handle all the PSA stuff, either,” Hendrick said. “Because I think I’ll be doing an injustice to those folks on the PSA side of things with my attention.”
The Laurel Fork supervisor concluded by asking that the authority have a full-time director other than the county administrator and limit the number of supervisors who serve on both boards to one.
Supervisor Sam Dickson responded immediately, saying that the goal in supervisors being on the PSA was to ramp up the water and sewer work.
That effort started six years ago, when he found few utility projects were going on, he explained. Then county supervisors were appointed to the authority.
“In the past six years, we’ve practically doubled the amount of lines... that we had we almost tripled our customers — there’s been a huge increase,” Dickson said. “That was the reason I wanted to be on it — I wanted to be the one to push it.
“I wasn’t sure the board before us was pushing water and sewer as much as they needed to.”
In economic development, you can’t get much action without the availability of water and sewer, Dickson added. “I can say six years ago, we only had water and sewer, I think, at one intersection, now we have it at all four I-77 intersections, so we have a chance to grow.”
Supervisors’ Chairman David Hutchins also commented on Hendrick’s remarks.
“I don’t know, when he ran, how much time he thought he would spend doing this, but I think most of us are on several committees, and when I ran I knew it would take a lot of time,” Hutchins said. “I made that commitment to do whatever I needed to serve on those committees and the community, and that’s where we need to be.”