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Tony Hammock inspects a protective shed built over a well that provides water to his home on Popcorn Holmes Road in Westmoreland. There is no water line that runs along the street for the family to use. JOSH CROSS

For 25 years, Cathy Hammock and her family have relied on a well to provide water to their home on Popcorn Holmes Road in Westmoreland.

While the well has always been reliable, Hammock, who drinks bottled water, said she is worried about possible contamination of the water she uses for things like washing clothes and brushing her teeth.

“We’ve been promised and promised over the years, but we still don’t have (a water line along our street),” she said. “In this day and age, it’s sad that anybody has to do without water.”

According to a Sumner County list of requested water line extensions, there were 75 roads that in the Westmoreland, Portland, Castalian Springs and Bethpage areas that lacked water lines as of February 2009. More than 15 miles of water lines have since been extended in order to serve more than 200 of the estimated 700-plus total possible taps along those roadways.

The lack of access to clean safe drinking water is still the top issue Sumner County 1st District Commissioner Moe Taylor says he is asked most about when talking to his constituents in the northeastern part of the county.

And while construction is expected to start in the spring on a $745,860 project that will extend water lines to at least 52 additional homes along three separate county roads, a request for additional funding to add Pumping Station Road and possibly Popcorn Holmes Road to the project was not included in the county’s 2019-20 fiscal year budget earlier this year.

“My constituents have had their taxes raised twice in less than five years,” Taylor said citing the recently approved 34-cent county property tax increase in August. “Those same constituents are the ones that don’t have access to water and some of them own big tracts of land and pay lots of taxes.

“There are some roads out there that will never quality for a grant (to fund the extension of water lines). They just never will.”

Since 2007, county commissioners have approved nearly $2.8 of local funding for water line extensions in northern Sumner County, according to data provided by the county. 

Contaminated wells

In July of 2018, Sumner County was awarded a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant from the State of Tennessee to extend water lines along Rabe Coats Road, Absher Branch Roach and Harrison Road. 

As part of the project, water lines will also be run to each residence and tap fees will be waived for each household that qualifies as being low and moderate income – approximately 73 percent of the residences, according to a preliminary engineering report.

Water samples from 11 private wells along the three roads were collected and sent to the Laguardo Water Treatment Plant for testing in February 2018, according to the report. All of the samples tested positive for E. coli bacteria and were found to not be safe for human consumption without treatment.

“The majority of these residents have access to well water high in sulfur,” the report added. “Drinking this water is not an option.”

Construction work on the project is expected to begin in the spring of 2020 and take approximately six to eight months to complete, according to Kim Norfleet, grants administrator for Sumner County.

Budget chairman: County ‘didn’t have the money’ for additional water line projects

Earlier this year, Taylor said he requested $400,000 in additional funding for water line extensions in the county and had hoped to use the money to add Pumping Station Road and possibly Popcorn Holmes Road to the scope of the existing project.

However, he was told that in order to receive the money it would require “a penny or two” be added onto the tax increase.

“I told them no, my people wouldn’t go for that,” Taylor said. “We’ve always come up with the money within the existing budgets.

“I was severely disappointed in the way they were trying to handle it.”

For the past several years, funding for water line extensions has come from savings the county had left over at the end of each budget year, according to Chris Taylor who serves as chairman of the county’s budget committee. It has never been an item the full commission has voted on to fund as a recurring expense every year.

As for this year, he said the county “didn’t have any extra money” to fund additional water line extension projects.

“It was a combination of two things, we didn’t have the savings left over like we normally do, and it was a leaner budget,” Chris Taylor added. “We didn’t really have much left over after that.”

Funding generated by the 34-cent property tax increase approved in August will be used to pay for a $4,000 annual pay increase for all Sumner County teachers, principals and other certified employees; hiring school resource officers in the remaining 15 schools that do not currently have one; and helping to fund an initial portion of a proposed new criminal justice center for the county that is estimated to cost more than $100 million in total.

As for additional money for water line extension funding, Moe Taylor said he plans to ask for $400,000 again next year as part of the county’s budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“It’s one of those things that if we have the money, we will certainly do it,” Chris Taylor said. “There has been some question about how many people actually tapped into it, but… it doesn’t really matter to me how many people use it. They should at least have the option.

“This year, we just didn’t have the money.”

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