Hamilton County Commission distributes about $30 million in federal funds

Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Rivermont Elementary School is seen Wednesday, the day the Hamilton County Commission approved up to $1.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act money for a multipurpose gym/play area at the school.

Hamilton County commissioners allocated almost $30 million of federal funds on Wednesday to support school projects, community development efforts and improvements to the county's wastewater system.

The money is part of a $71.4 million pot of funding the county has received through the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus package passed by Democrats in Congress in 2021 to help the economy through the pandemic.

Commissioners distributed $9.7 million to various capital projects the county was unable to include in its fiscal year 2023 budget. Mayor Jim Coppinger said those expenses were important items that would have otherwise cut into other funding priorities, such as raises for county employees.

The $9.7 million allotment includes $3 million to replace an emergency medical services training center in White Oak, which was originally constructed in 1930; $1.8 million for six new ambulances; $1.2 million for roof replacements and electricity upgrades at McDonald Farm Park; and $945,000 for improvements at Silverdale Correctional Facility.

Hamilton County Schools received about $5 million Wednesday. That includes $750,000 for the construction of a track at East Ridge High School and $990,975 for a running track and field event site at East Hamilton High School.

Commissioners are allocating another $1.5 million for the construction of a new gym at Rivermont Elementary School, $300,000 to replace an air conditioning unit at Red Bank High School, $300,000 to fund the construction of a concrete pad with power for an amphitheater at East Hamilton High School and $250,000 to finance stage and rigging improvements at the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts.

"The majority of it is for capital projects," Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Justin Robertson told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "The projects it's trying to hit are things that we have neglected in the past."

Hamilton County Schools is facing $1 billion in deferred maintenance and capital improvement needs.

"It's a needed investment," Robertson said Wednesday, "but we still have a long ways to go."

The school system has two major capital projects underway, he said: Construction of a new Tyner Middle High Academy, which officials are getting ready to send out for bids, and a renovation and addition to the former Lakeside Elementary School, which will accommodate students from the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts.

With a new mayor and a slate of new elected leaders joining the County Commission and school board in September, Robertson said he wants to work with county leaders to assemble a list of priorities for upcoming investments.

"It's got to work from the top," he said. "We know we have some buildings that need to be replaced or major renovations, and then there's got to be the baseline things of roofs, air conditioners and all those kinds of daily maintenance needs."

Wastewater needs

The bulk of the county's total funding from the act is going to the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.

That includes $10 million that county commissioners sent to the WWTA on Wednesday, which will fund the organization's portion of the "environmental and economic infrastructure improvement project," a partnership with the city of Chattanooga that involves constructing wet weather storage facilities in strategic locations around the county.

Michael Patrick, the WWTA's executive director, said the two-phase project will add 44 million gallons of additional storage to the wastewater system.

The project is part of remediation efforts underway through an agreement known as a consent decree, which the city of Chattanooga has entered into with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and another pending agreement involving the WWTA.

"It reduces the likelihood of sanitary sewer overflows, which is the overarching goal of both consent decrees and it adds capacity in the process," Patrick told the Times Free Press.

The WWTA's consent decree will be negotiated settlements with the federal government that outline a work plan for reducing overflows in sanitary sewer systems, according to a statement on its website.

The remainder of the WWTA's federal funding, Patrick said, will support the construction of other wet weather facilities, including one in Soddy-Daisy, and other rehabilitation projects. Overall, Patrick said, the funding allows the authority to complete projects much earlier than would have been previously possible.

"Some of these projects would be many years in the future without this (federal) funding," he said.

Other priorities

Coppinger said he's invited commissioners over the years to identify projects for funding that they believed their colleagues would support. The federal funding distributed Wednesday also went to organizations focused on housing, education and workforce development, he said.

The federal government has outlined required uses for the stimulus dollars, and Coppinger said Hamilton County chose to invest heavily in wastewater projects, which takes the burden off taxpayers.

"As far as the other dollars go, they were all things that had been discussed with the commission and with their input," Coppinger said. "Today, you saw some of the projects that were important to them and their respective communities."

Outside organizations that received funding on Wednesday included:

- $2 million to support phase one of the Chattanooga Housing Authority's Westside Revitalization Plan.

- $450,000 to the Alton Park Development Corp.

- $561,000 for Friends House Ministries.

- $70,000 to support the Chattanooga in Action for Love, Equity & Benevolence fund.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.