It was presented to city officials at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs' annual fall conference Wednesday during a dinner at Great Wolf Lodge in LaGrange. The award represents a state grant to help with sewer repairs.

"We're going to hang it on the wall," Council member Tom Lindsey said with a laugh.

Then he got serious.

"We've got three financing modes we're going to use to repair this old dilapidated sewer system ... We originally thought to do it for $3.1 million, but right now we're looking at closer to $5 million. They keep finding more problems," he said.

The 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package contains $1,281,000 for the project. They've also been awarded a $4.2 million combination grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant portion, just short of $1.9 million, can't be tapped until the loan funds are spent.

"We're in good shape on this one," Lindsey said about the DCA grant. "We don't have to pay this one back."

The city is under an environmental consent order to fix the system, which has frequent overflows due to leaks that allow extra water into the pipes. While heavy rains are the obvious culprit, Lindsey said engineers scoping the system now suspect there's also infiltration in the lines running under Cedar Creek. They're working to target the problem areas better.

The project includes modernization of the sewer treatment plant.

"The City Council wants to be proactive about this," Lindsey said. "Our goal is to fix this sewer system right, for once and for all. We've spent a lot of money on it since 1990 and it’s still not where it needs to be"

Mayor Dennis Shoaf, City Clerk Judy Dickinson and Council members Nellie McCain, Nancy Fricks and Joyce Mink also attended the conference awards dinner. None stayed overnight for the two-day gathering.

But Lindsey said a session with DCA officials after the dinner was rewarding. When they asked attendees what the state could do to help them, several spoke about the time-consuming and detailed application process for assistance.

"Small cities like us are underfunded," Lindsey noted. "We showed him that some regulations need to be eased up on for us because we can't afford to apply."

Cave Spring dipped into savings to hire a grant-writing consultant to seek out funding options for the sewer repairs. Utilities are typically funded by ratepayers but the city's system serves fewer than 1,000 customers β€” many on fixed incomes β€” and officials said the cost burden would be too high.

"Several members of the DCA board were in the room at the time, so that issue was brought to light," Lindsey said. "I hope they'll take it into consideration and find a way to help out small, small Georgia cities."