BEDFORD — Town of Bedford council members and officials met in a called work session Tuesday to discuss possible uses of money received through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
The town’s allotment of funding, geared to help boost local economies through the COVID-19 pandemic and largely based on a locality’s population, amounted to $6.8 million. Dissemination of the money will come in two parts: the town has received half of the money — $3.4 million — and expects to receive the second half in February.
Town council members and town staff met with Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss and Brian Key, executive director of the Bedford Regional Water Authority, to discuss ways the town, county and authority could maximize the effect of Rescue Plan money by potentially collaborating on certain eligible projects that serve the citizenry, including water and sewer projects, and broadband initiatives.
“We feel like the town of Bedford and Bedford County could actually partner and maybe combine our money on some projects within town limits to kind of get more bang for the buck on both sides,” Bedford Town Manager Bart Warner said.
The Rescue Plan money, like dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, have certain spending parameters attached and may only be used toward eligible projects.
Eligible projects must already exist within a locality. Eligible projects also must be completed by the plan’s spending deadline several years from now.
Key presented four eligible water-authority projects to council for consideration, from the BRWA’s existing capital improvement projects list.
The water and sewer projects pitched included a $1.3 million Helm Street tank project; a $2 million project for a Forest Lake booster station to help pump water to Lynchburg’s water treatment plant, which would lower operating costs; a $700,000 booster station and line improvement project which would improve service for Turkey Mountain customers and allow necessary replacement of old valves at the central water treatment plant; and an option to fund some sewer line replacements.
Most sewer lines throughout the water authority’s service area need to be replaced with larger, updated lines to keep up with capacity and service demands, Key said, and at least part of this undertaking — which totals at least $6.5 million — could be aided by ARPA funding.
“There’s a ton of work to do,” Key said. In terms of project priority, he added: “You could pick any one of those [projects], and they’re about the same.”
Bedford County’s priorities rest in broadband coverage.
Bedford County received a total of about $15.4 million in Rescue Plan funds, Hiss said. Although the county board of supervisors will not meet to discuss usage of the funds until at least September, the county and board of supervisors’ priorities are on universal broadband access.
The broadband initiative in Bedford County works toward providing universal broadband coverage, focusing on unserved and underserved areas, a need that became especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic when many had to work or do schoolwork from home.
One of the first steps toward achieving this goal is ensuring the infrastructure is established to bring universal broadband coverage, Hiss said. Bedford County staff still are working on dollar figures, but he estimated between $13 million and $14.8 million in Bedford County Rescue Plan funds could be used exclusively for broadband initiatives.
Hiss said he hoped the cost would keep to the lower end at $13 million, which would free up another $2.25 million or so to possibly aid a BRWA project.
The county’s goal is ultimately “trying to find those projects that address quantity issues, quality issues,” Hiss said, adding if the county is able to contribute to both broadband and water and sewer projects, it would be a win-win for both the town and county.
Broadband projects could help boost internet access within parts of the town, and water and sewer service projects could offer additional water sources or improve existing services within town limits, Hiss and Key said when Mayor Tim Black asked how each project might benefit the town.
Hiss said the county has selected three internet service providers to contract, and negotiations are in progress. The providers have not yet been publicly announced.
Action on Rescue Plan fund projects will be taken at a future meeting.