Town seeks federal stimulus to complete projects

A car travels east on 1st Avenue on Thursday.  This street is one of the many which could benefit from federal stimulus money - Paul Kramer

A car travels east on 1st Avenue on Thursday. This street is one of the many which could benefit from federal stimulus money - Paul Kramer

On Wednesday, the newly elected House of Representatives approved President Obama’s $819 billion stimulus package by a vote of 244 to 188. As states and locales across the country are eagerly anticipating the added funds and in anticipation of a large influx of cash, Grinnell city officials are drawing up plans for how to use the funds.

According to City Manager Russ Behrens, the city expects to receive $195,000 in stimulus money for roadwork in the city and have applied for further stimulus aid. Officials have targeted sections of 1st and 8th Avenues in part because of their proximity to businesses and because both are designated Federal Aid Highways, making them eligible for federal funds. The roadwork would include a complete reconstruction of the street as well as the installation of new sewerage and drainage infrastructure.

Behrens left Tuesday with Grinnell Mayor Gordon Canfield and a collection of town employees on an annual lobbying trip to Washington, DC. The group said that its top two priorities were improving federal reimbursements for the local hospital and securing money from the recently passed stimulus package.

Other factors city officials must consider are access to permits and expected time lengths. “All projects must be ‘shovel-ready’ with permits already in place and prepared to start immediately,” Behrens said.

According to Behrens, in addition to the nearly $195,000 the city expects to put toward roadwork, officials have also prepared four additional projects for which they hope to secure extra funding, but will have to wait before it finds out if it will get more money.

“The town has submitted four different project proposals, [but] most money will go from federal to the state [before being allocated to municipalities],” Behrens said. “The city would prefer for [direct funding of] city projects because our goal is to spend it as soon as possible.”
City Council member and Chair of the city’s Finance Committee Jim White said that the city also would like to put money toward adding a bicycle path from an area school to the Wal-Mart and constructing a planned aquatic center.

“The pool is essential,” said resident Bill Vosburg. “[It is funded] based on sales tax revenue but there is a concern that if the sales go down [because of the economy] then we are not going to meet the needed revenue. I have an 11-year-old who will use the pool and be very happy [with a new one].”

While officials hope to secure additional funding for these projects, they are making the planned roadwork a priority because of certain federal preference on the expenditure of the funds. “I think the big thing is on roads,” White said. “I think that’s one of the big things that President Obama is stressing.”

White said that the restrictions which usually accompany receipt of federal aid might also restrict the town’s use of the money. According to federal regulations, a certain percentage of contracts funded with federal money must typically be bid to companies that are minority- or women-owned

“But do we have someone in our area that can do that?” White asked. “When you take federal money, you know there are certain things you have to do and sometimes we don’t have the criteria for some of those things.”

—additional reporting by Anna Gilbert