GAINESVILLE – High Springs city leaders met Wednesday with officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development in Gainesville and Washington D.C. via teleconference in hopes of saving $1.6 million grant funding for the city’s wastewater system.

High Springs Interim City Manager Jeri Langman said the City presented its case as to why the $1.6 million should not be withheld from the city even though it had not used the funds within a purportedly stipulated five-year timeframe.

“It wasn’t in the fifth year or the end of the fifth year, but the end of the sixth year that [USDA was] then calling back the monies,” Langman said.

Several years ago, USDA Rural Development awarded High Springs with more than $10 million in funding for its wastewater system, including a $6.353 million loan and a $4.05 million grant.

High Springs made its case before a federal hearing officer, who is expected to rule on the matter by the first week of February.

If the City is allowed to retain the $1.6 million, it would be used for connecting additional users to the wastewater system.  That could have a big impact on costs to utility customers.  With more users connected, the City could spread out the costs of maintaining and operating the wastewater treatment facility.

Commissioners are already scrambling to find funds to shore up the city’s budget since they voted last month against raising the wastewater rates.  An already tight budget approved by commissioners in September called for the rate hikes.

The budget meeting to discuss the expected shortfall in funding is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m.