PRETTY PRAIRIE — Three months after the Kansas Department of Commerce informed the city of Pretty Prairie in a two-page letter it was selected to receive a $600,000 grant for its water quality project, the state told the city in a three-paragraph letter that it had not qualified for the money and would not receive it.

Pretty Prairie had authorized engineers to begin work for the planned reverse osmosis plant and new water tower following the “Congratulations” letter dated Jan. 22. It envisioned seeking bids in June until the April 24 letter arrived.

It felt like getting punched in the gut, said Pretty Prairie City Councilman Darrin Unruh.

“We have some hard decisions,” he said.

On Tuesday night, Pretty Prairie City Council and its water attorney, the Wichita-based Wyatt Hoch, will confer about the next step.

Options include:

Halt the overall project and apply again in the next grant cycle;

Drop the planned water tower from the project. A new tower, to replace a tower over 100 years old, would cost about $700,000.

Expand the city’s loan through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and continue with the overall project.

Apply for a grant for the water tower component.

No decision has been made about raising city water rates again, but that is a possibility, too.

Survey says

For decades, the nitrate levels in Pretty Prairie’s drinking water have exceeded federal and state guidelines of 10 parts per million. A sample taken in April showed a concentration of 22.8 parts per million. The city provides free bottled water to expectant and nursing mothers and households with infants.

In early 2017, the city learned its application for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant was rejected on a technicality. One of the public hearings held took place after a deadline.

The city had to wait a year for the next annual grant cycle. Again, the city relied on South Central Kansas Economic Development District to write the grant application. Patti Brace, the former city clerk who came back to assist after an employee left, did not ascribe blame but noted a new grant writer wrote the application sent for the 2018 cycle.

To qualify for the grant, Pretty Prairie needed a household survey to show that at least 51 percent of its residential households to fall within the low-to-moderate-income category.

“After review by three different persons, the LMI survey tabulation does not meet the minimum 51 percent LMI. The totals are 689 population with 325 responding as LMI for an LMI percent of 47.16,” wrote Kansas Commerce Department’s Nadira Hazim-Patrick, finance program administration manager, in April.

In boldface type and underlined, Hazim-Patrick also wrote: “Noncompliant surveys will not be given a second opportunity to be corrected.”

The LMI survey collects various data, including the number of people in a household, income, ethnicity, race, and disability. Brace thinks a new survey for a new grant application could hit the 51 percent LMI target.

Changes

When the January letter that began “Congratulations” was written, Sam Brownback was governor. Nick Jordan, then-interim secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce, signed the letter. Jeff Colyer was sworn in as governor less than 10 days later. Robert North was interim Commerce secretary when the April letter was sent.

Unruh, attending U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s town hall Friday in Buhler, said he appreciated Moran and his staff for their efforts, but “it’s the entrenched bureaucracy,” Unruh said.

The CDBG is federal dollars flowing through the state. There’s “no way, no possible way,” Moran said that a community with 302 ratepayers can carry out the well-over $2-million water project without grants and loans.