By Selwyn Harris
Pahrump Town Manager Bill Kohbarger took full responsibility for letting more than $160,000 in fairground funds slip through the town’s hands.
The mea culpa came during Tuesday’s town board meeting where the town manager informed board members that the reimbursable grant, which amounted to $198,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD had a “Use it or Lose it,” provision attached.
The town was able to recover about $30,000.
The grant was approved and accepted by the Nye County Board of Commissioners in 2005, roughly one year before Kohbarger was hired by the town board.
The funds were earmarked for the renovation of facilities at the site of the Pahrump/Nye County Fairgrounds located on the far south end of town.
One of several stipulations for the grant, which was cited in the grant agreement, stated that the grant officer must receive a progress report every six months from the town outlining the work that had been accomplished.
As he explained the situation to board members, Kohbarger noted that unexpected delays from other federal agencies were factors as to why the town failed to meet a Sept. 17, 2012 deadline for spending the funds on the project.
“It is because of all of the red tape that the federal government themselves gave to us in dealing with the tortoise habitat, in dealing with the ground surface air transmission. Anytime you develop any property over five acres, you have to go to the state and get a permit. The process was only supposed to take a week.
“In fact, to this day, we still do not have that permit. All of the submittals to the county that we worked on in getting the road put in got delayed. The county kicked it back a few times because we were doing more than what they expected,” he said.
Kohbarger also noted that he wanted the initial stages of the project completed correctly the first time, which also contributed to the delays.
“We wanted to do it to where we built a road, we won’t have to go back in and keep cutting into it or keep resurfacing it. It is being built to handle everything that will be brought through it like horse trailers and semi trailers loaded for equipment.
“When we first started, we were just going to do a basic road, but if we’re going to do it, we are going to do it right the first time and that took extra time. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service paperwork that needed to be completed took an extended time in getting them to do what they had to do and then getting it back to us,” he said.
Kohbarger made mention that he personally requested a deadline extension for the grant, but was unsuccessful.
“We asked HUD but HUD doesn’t have the authority to grant an extension. I contacted Senator Reid’s office and they started working on it on August 15. On August 27, I got back a message that basically said, ‘As promised I had our D.C. office review your request for an extension of the HUD grant, but I do not have good news because the town has not used the money in over seven years.’”
Kohbarger said the message went on to say, “HUD is rescinding their unused funds. Unfortunately, as HUD has indicated in their April 2012 letter, you have the requirement to rescind unspent funds in the statute and it cannot be waived or extended by the department. We cannot overrule statutory requirements here,” the town manager read.
Kohbarger noted that the town can take advantage of another grant from the feds for the fairgrounds project.
“We are moving forth and next year we should be able to get about $190,000 on the next one if we continue to move forward and continue to push this. It is taking a lot of extra time and effort on staff’s part to do all of the paperwork and cut through the red tape and jumping through all of the hoops. The federal government who gave us the grant in the first place is requiring us to do all of that to follow up.
“It has been extremely extensive because we’ve had to hire two additional consultants just to get us to the process where we are right now due to the desert tortoise habitat. It has been a learning experience for all staff and unfortunately, we were only able to get $30,000 of the $198,000.
Town Board member Dr. Tom Waters asked the town manager to clarify whether the money was lost or just merely delayed due to not making HUD’s deadline.
Kohbarger said the money is technically a grant but the town must first pay for the project and the government will in turn reimburse the funds.
“You have to go out and spend the money before you get the money. It’s $198,000 that they said they would reimburse us if we spent it. We were able to spend $30,000 of that $198,000 and we got it reimbursed for that $30,000 and that was for all engineering costs. The grant was specified that 20 percent would go to engineering and 80 percent would actually go for construction,” he said.
Kohbarger also apologized for not keeping the town board properly informed about the status of the project.
“You should have had this information in the middle of September and with all of the emails going back and forth, I failed to notify you guys and it’s nobody else’s fault but myself. I apologize again for not keeping you in the loop to what we were doing. Staff was working very hard and diligently to get this done and a lot of people were scrambling and working extremely hard on this,” he said.
Board member Mike Darby told Kohbarger that delays aside, he’s just relieved that the project is in fact moving forward.
“I’m just finally glad that something is happening there. It was a long time coming and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. A multitude of questions can point a multitude of fingers. I’m just glad it is happening so thank you,” he said.
In July of this year, Nye County sought out bids on drilling a 700 foot deep municipal well to irrigate several proposed multi-purpose ball fields at the site.
The contract was awarded to Drill Tech, Inc. out of Chino Valley, Az. for $186,399.