Nonprofits criticize Roswell’s use of grant funds for water line project

During a Monday meeting, council approved the use of the monies to the public works department for the replacement of waterlines in disrepair in low and moderate-income neighborhoods.  AJC FILE

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During a Monday meeting, council approved the use of the monies to the public works department for the replacement of waterlines in disrepair in low and moderate-income neighborhoods. AJC FILE

Roswell City Council took heat this week for awarding Community Development Block Grant funds to city waterline replacement projects instead of local nonprofit organizations.

Although they were in disagreement, the city and the nonprofits’ overall goal was to use $450,000 in grant funds to help residents at economic risk. The CDBG funds are provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

During a Monday meeting, City Council approved the funds going to the public works department for the replacement of water lines in disrepair in a low- and moderate-income neighborhood. A total of $332,500 is being allocated to the Maxwell Road water line project and $72,500 will be used for Rocky Creek Road water lines. The remaining $45,000 will be used to create a consolidated plan required by HUD for the future use of CDBG funds as well as a consultant to weigh in on the city’s proposal, grant specialist Charles Alford said.

Roswell Public Works Director Sharon Izzo and Water Utility Manager Chris Boyd said during the meeting that the galvanized steel pipes in the roads are more than 60 years old, leaking and causing brownish-orange water to come out of faucets used by 1,690 residents.

The discoloration is an indication of iron and manganese in the lines and the outdated steel pipes are covered in asbestos which can become airborne during repairs, potentially harming workers and others close by, the public works officials said. The new lines will also improve low water pressure in the area.

Funds will also be used to add a fire hydrant to the neighborhood. Boyd said that currently there are only two hydrants in the area and they’re spaced too far apart.

Mayor Kurt Wilson and council members said the project will improve the safety and welfare of underserved residents.

“At the end of the day … we saw a lot of great projects here but we have a lot of great residents that don’t have a voice, that really do deserve to be safe from these risks,” Councilman Mike Palermo said.

During public comment, representatives from Roswell nonprofits said their organizations rely on CDBG funds to help families in financial need.

“We are disappointed to find the city of Roswell has chosen to reallocate its (CDBG) funds to a water line project instead of funding its local nonprofits as it’s done in the past,” said Maggie Goldman of Family Promise North Fulton/DeKalb.

Goldman said the organization doesn’t receive the block grant funds but partners with such nonprofits as the Drake House and HomeStretch. Those organizations normally use CDBG funds to help clients with transitional housing, she said, adding that other nonprofits would utilize the grant to help families with childcare, clothing, utility assistance and more.

The critics cited comments during a transportation committee meeting in April in which the public works department said the water in the affected neighborhood was not harmful to drink.

Wilson and the council members said they remain concerned.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Water Quality Association, high levels of manganese can cause health issues for infants, the elderly and people with liver disease.

Wilson said he’s received emails and texts admonishing the city for not awarding the CDBG funds to local nonprofits.

“I understand that people are mad at us about that but I want you to understand that we seriously intended to try to do the right thing as we understood the (CDBG) program’s intention,” Wilson said.