Stanislaus still tweaking loan program for replacing dry wells

09/04/2014 8:27 PM

09/04/2014 8:29 PM

More than a week after supervisors approved a loan program for replacing dry residential wells in Stanislaus County, eligible homeowners are not able to apply.

County staff members said Thursday that they are putting final touches on the emergency program, designed for rural homeowners who have lived without water in their faucets for months.

They include seniors on fixed incomes who face well replacement costs of $15,000 to $20,000.

Keith Boggs, a county assistant executive officer, said the county could be ready to accept applications for the low-interest loans by the end of next week, but that was no guarantee. “We are working on all of the details,” Boggs said. “It’s important that we get this right.”

Jami Aggers, director of county environmental resources, said an internal meeting was held Wednesday to refine the program. Staff members are working on details such as how to verify income, the payback period for loans, and whether to collect payments monthly or every three months.

Aggers said she wasn’t sure how quickly loans can be approved for eligible homeowners when the county starts accepting applications. “We will be committed to expedite them as much as possible,” Aggers said.

The director said a half-dozen people inquired about potential loans after supervisors approved the emergency program Aug. 26.

Supervisor Terry Withrow said the county is eager to provide relief but needs to run a responsible program. “We are just about there,” Withrow said. “We have to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. We want to make sure these loans are paid back.”

The county will commit $200,000 in loan money for owner-occupied residential properties in unincorporated areas. Individual loans will be capped at $20,000, which is often the price quote for a new well and pump system.

County leaders geared the loan program for low- to middle-income residents, or those earning up to $83,322 a year.

The drought, agricultural pumping and massive expansion of almond orchards have been variously blamed for an outbreak of domestic well failures this year. The county could assist 10 households with low-interest loans at the maximum amount.

Withrow has favored allocating more funds if the county is deluged by applications.

The program will give preference to seniors 65 and older who meet the income guidelines. According to the basic outline of the program, the county will expect repayment over five to seven years at 1 percent annual interest.

When the program is launched, the county Department of Environmental Resources will accept applications, make sure they are complete and then pass them to a review committee, Aggers said. The committee will consider financial need, the estimate on well repairs and the homeowner’s ability to make payments before approving loans.

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