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City has received about $2 million in grants in last two years

By JOE ASHER
joe.asher@middlesboronews.com

The city of Middlesboro has received approximately $2 million in grant funding over the last two years, which has been used to address a number of issues.

Middlesboro Mayor Rick Nelson discussed some of the issues and grants during an interview on Wednesday.

“I must say the council has done a really good job,” Nelson said. “We all faced a tough situation when we came in. We were in debt about $750,000.  We had several of our departments that were not being run very efficiently, so we had a lot of issues.”

Nelson said during his first week in office, a bill landed on his desk for $195,000 for garbage service.

“We had not been charging enough to make the payment,” Nelson explained. “So, month after month we would get down a few thousand. It got to the point that they were slowing down on picking up stuff…They could’ve taken us to court and got their money plus lawyer’s fees. But I told them we were going to take care of this.”

Nelson said the city raised the garbage rates to cover the cost, however the rates still remain one of the lowest in the area.

Nelson also explained the city’s sewer plant was also in need of work, resulting in a $30,000 fine from the state.

“We ended up having to raise the sewer rates for the first time since 1987,” Nelson said.  “A lot of people got mad at that and I don’t blame them a bit. But, again, you have a choice. You can either move forward, take responsibility and do what you need to do, or let the state come in.”

Nelson said the city’s sewer rates are still among the lowest in the area.

“Fast forward two years later, we don’t have a garbage debt,” Nelson said. “We’re making a little bit of money on garbage. We are making improvements on the sewer…We’re paying our bills on time and at the same time making improvements.”

Nelson said the city has received a $1 million ARC grant for the sewer plant.

“We’re hoping to cut a ribbon on that maybe in January or February,” Nelson said.

He said the Middlesboro Fire Department has received a $427,000 FEMA grant to be used for a new pumper truck as well as a $133,000 FEMA grant to be used for air packs. The department also received a $14,000 grant for a LUCAS device, which is a chest compression device to aid in resuscitation efforts. The fire department also received $51,000 in grant funding from the federal government.

Nelson mentioned the city also used grant money to clean up an area known as “the limb pile,” an area used to discard brush.

“We applied for and got a grant from the state and rented a large tub grinder,” Nelson said. “They came in, picked up all the old limbs…and it shredded it into sawdust.”

Nelson said the rented equipment cleanup up approximately 75 percent of the limbs in 10 days.

“We got a grant for about $48,000 for that,” Nelson said. “The sawdust was going to be a problem, so we contacted one of the furniture companies down in Tennessee and they came and got it and didn’t charge us anything because they use it for plywood.”

Nelson also mentioned a $72,000 grant was obtained for playground improvements at Ford’s Woods.

“We applied for a grant for Pour-n-Play,” he said. “It’s a rubber mixture that you put underneath slides, swings and walkways.

It’s as tough as nails, but it’s still got a little sponge to it if you fall on it.”

The Middlesboro Police Department also recently received a USDA grant for police vehicles.

“We got half funding for three brand new Explorers,” Nelson said. “We were able to use alcohol (tax) money to pay for the rest of it.”

The police department has also received a $23,000 grant for highway safety to help pay for alcohol related stops and roadblocks, according to Nelson.

“Also, we got a grant of $24,000 for body armor,” he said. “We have to pay half of that. That’s for 19 vests.”

The city has also received $250,000 in discretionary road funding for paving.

Nelson said the city is currently in the process of applying for a $450,000 ARC grant to update the computer system at the sewer plant.

While the city has provided some funding for a few of the projects, most of the expenses have been covered by grant money.

“It looks like about $2 million (in grants) so far,” Nelson said.  “Most of them haven’t cost anything. They gave us $427,000 (for the fire truck) and we put in $27,000. For the air packs they gave us $133,000 and we put in $5,000. The Pour-n-Play we had to put in $11,000 and for the tub grinder we put in about $5,000. So, we did have a small match. I’ll trade all day for that.”