published Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Jasper officials differ on how to fund sewer line project

JASPER, Tenn. -- Now that city administrators have received a $500,000 grant to help build about two and a half miles of sewer line, they must find a way to come up with the balance for the work.

Combined with the grant, Jasper has commitments from local property owners and Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores in Oklahoma City, Okla., for $1 million for the plan that would allow the city to annex about 35 parcels of land between U.S. Highway 41 and Interstate 24's exit 158 and build the line.

Jasper Mayor Billy Simpson said engineers estimated the cost for the sewer line at $1.3 million and that was "on the high side just in case."

"It may be that it doesn't actually cost $1.3 million to put that line in," City Attorney Mark Raines said. "That was an initial estimate by an engineering company, so that's the target everyone is shooting for. In reality, hopefully, it's going to be less. It could be more, depending on the market."

Even though city officials feel confident the remaining $377,000 will be pledged by local business owners and county leaders, members of the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen said they want the public to know where they stand on paying that money.

"I don't want us stuck out here for that $377,000," Alderman Steve Looney said. "If it's not there, I'm not voting for this."

Vice Mayor Leon Rash said he was "100 percent for the project," but the balance would have to come "from outside the city."

"I want to reconfirm my commitment that I will not vote to approve any additional taxes on the current city of residents to complete this project," he said.

Simpson said he thought all the board members felt the same way, but Alderman Paul Evans disagreed.

If Love's builds a facility at the exit, Evans said, it would "guarantee 30 jobs" and create a larger tax base for Jasper.

The city planning commission estimates the project could repay the entire loan in three to four years, he said.

"That's crazy for any of us to just sit up here and say we're going to be against it if we have to put in any kind of money for this project," Evans said.

Rash said he resented being called "crazy" for not wanting to raise taxes.

"I think I've been called that a few times, and [Rash] too," Evans said. "I'm for this project even if that includes us paying $377,000. We're looking at 30 jobs for this town, plus the tax base."

Acquiring the remaining money is "a work in progress," Raines said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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