On Friday, congressional leaders and President Donald Trump came to an agreement to reopen the Federal government and bring Federal workers back to their jobs, with a three-week time clock ticking. While Clarendon County is home to a regional USDA office, which was affected by the shutdown, most Clarendon businesses don’t depend on Federal jobs. However, the County can still be further impacted if the shutdown resumes after February 15.
On top of those who work at the USDA office in Manning and the few residents who may work outside the County at Federal jobs in other counties, the City of Manning and Clarendon County can both be directly affected, should workers be sent home again.
According to Manning City Administrator Scott Tanner, the shutdown can cause slow-downs or cessations on ongoing USDA-funded construction projects.
The City of Manning has been the recipient of a recent USDA grant for a $21 million upgrade to the city’s water infrastructure. The Waste Water Treatment project has increased the City’s ability to treat waste water from two and a half million gallons per day to five million gallons per day.
“This project is vital to economic development within the county,” said Tanner.
Payments to the contractor for the project is a lengthy process. First the contractor must submit his pay requests to the city’s engineer. The engineer reviews and approves the requests and sends them to Tanner. After his approval, Tanner forwards the requests to their USDA representative for payment.
While Manning has been awarded funding for the project, all disbursements must be approved by the USDA on a case-by-case basis. This allows the USDA to track expenditures on the awarded grants. The problem comes when the USDA gets furloughed during shutdowns.
“We’re actually very close to the end of construction,” said Tanner. “But it can still hurt us if the shutdown occurs again next month.” Tanner states they are nearing the end of phase III, which is putting the finishing touches on the project. At this stage, a mere two months from completion, Tanner asserts he has faith the contractor won’t simply walk off the job.
In the meantime, City officials are looking at other options in case the shutdown resumes, including making final payments out of City funds and requesting reimbursement once the shutdown finally ends.
However, Clarendon County’s ongoing construction project may not be so lucky. The Clarendon County Phase II Water Systems Improvement Project, also funded by USDA grant, is in its beginning stages. This project is a water main extension south of Davis Station and west of Wyboo Subdivision.
“It’s a large project that should currently take about a year,” said Epperson, who states they will be laying about 26 miles of main water line.
The contract was awarded at the end of 2018, and construction began January 1. The County is not near enough to completion to simply pay the crews until such time as a lengthy shutdown might end.
According to Clarendon County Administrator David Epperson, the County has a similar process for payments to their contractor. However, he’s concerned at the impact lack of payment might have on the project.
“If contractors don’t get paid, they may scale down to minimal staffing and move the majority of their crews to other jobs,” said Epperson. “Or they might leave altogether, and the project would stop.”
Epperson understands it’s natural that contractors move to jobs where they can pay their crews. However, he is concerned about additional costs to set up and restart the projects once they return. The County would enter into discussions with the USDA, hoping the USDA would approve the additional costs, as the cessation of work was not the County’s fault. However, there is no guarantee the USDA would pay the extra money.
“We’re thankful the Federal government did open back up for three weeks. We are encouraging our contractors to get their invoices in as soon as they can, so we can try to get them paid before February 15,” said Epperson. “But we have to think about what plan B will be if they do shut down again. It’s kind of a wait and see approach.”
Should the shutdown resume in mid-February, both the City and the County will be back in the same boat, which could ultimately cost taxpayer residents. In spite of the backlog from weeks of shutdown, both Tanner and Epperson are hopeful they can get invoices paid in time.
“We’re looking at delays and ultimately higher costs if it does shut down again,” said Epperson. “Thank goodness we can try to get some invoices paid and keep our contractors happy for now.”