March 20 • 05:22 AM

The wish list

Local municipalities vie for share of Obama's proposed stimulus

January 14, 2009
TRI-CITY AREA — If and when President-elect Barack Obama's proposed $775 billion stimulus package is approved, local municipalities will be among those lining up for their share of the financial bonanza.

Obama has outlined a plan that would save or create an estimated one million jobs by providing funds for school, road and bridge improvements. A portion of the funding is expected to become available for municipal projects that are already in the works.

Officials throughout the Tri-City area are already busy establishing priorities for the use of such funds should they become available.

While she's optimistic that money will be forthcoming, Imlay City Manager Amy Planck says all discussion is premature and based on speculation.

"I think we have as good a chance as anyone else (for funding)," says Planck. "Of course it depends on how the programs are structured. We're hearing that the money will be filtered through MDOT. That would make sense, but it will definitely come with complications."

Planck says the parameters for receiving funding remain unclear, noting that some reports indicate that projects must be "shovel-ready," meaning they are designed and ready to go.

"I have no idea how applications will be processed," Planck says. "It seems everyone is waiting to hear how the money will be disseminated and what it will be used for. Obama hasn't even been sworn in yet, so we don't want to get the cart before the horse."

Although Planck has yet to broach the subject with city commissioners, she said the city has some street projects that are currently in the design phase and could be eligible for stimulus money.

"The funding for those projects is already in place," she says. "If the new program allows it, we might be able to pay our matching funds through the stimulus funding."

Almont Village Manager Gerald Oakes said a study has already been completed for repairs to the Cherry Street Bridge, which is on his priority list. photo by Tom Wearing.

Almont Village Manager Gerald Oakes is hopeful but less certain that small communities will benefit much from the Obama plan.

"It's my feeling that the big cities will get the bulk of the money and small towns will be kicked to the side," Oakes says. "People are excited and talking a lot about this, but nobody really knows anything yet."

Arnold Weinfeld, of the Michigan Municipal League in Lansing, stresses that there are several parts to the Obama stimulus plan, with infrastructure funding being just one of them.

"It's our position that federal stimulus funds sent to Michigan for infrastructure should first be used to restore deteriorating roads, bridges, water and sewer systems in communities before being spent on building new roads," Weinfeld says. "The remainder is to be dispersed elsewhere.

"A large chunk (about 80 percent) will probably go directly to MDOT," Weinfeld continues. "We're trying to make the point that smaller communities, including those in rural areas, have just as great a need as the larger municipalities.

"In the past, Gov. (Jennifer) Granholm has had a 'fix-it first' philosophy, which we believe would create jobs and incentives for business investments. That would benefit all of our communities. We hope she continues to adopt the same approach with stimulus funding."

Oakes says there are existing sources like Community Development Block Grants or the state's Regional Planning Agency in Flint that could also be used to deliver the funds. But he's wary.

"One of the things I'm worrying about," says Oakes, "is that CBGs are distributed only to low- or moderate-income communities. We (Village of Almont) don't fall into that category. The break-off point is somewhere around $40,000 and we're a little above that.

"If it's just for infrastructure," Oakes says, "unless we have a factory that wants to come to town, we probably can't get those grants."

In the event funds are available for Almont, he has put together a wish list of projects that have been on the drawing board and could be completed with the stimulus money.

At the top of Oakes' list is an upgrade of the sewer lift station on East St. Clair Street. The lift station was built in 1957 and is in serious need of improvement, he says. A preliminary study has been completed for the project at an estimated price tag of $400,000.

"The lift station is one of those projects that has been on the back burner," Oakes says. "We haven't been able to do it because there is no money."

Other potential projects include upgrades to the sanitary sewer along Bristol Street, near the wastewater treatment plant (at a cost of $200,000); replacing 12,300 feet of old 4-inch water mains with 8-inch lines (at an estimated cost of $1.9 million); and replacement of the Cherry Street bridge ($400,000). The bridge study has also been completed, Oakes added.

In Capac, though Christmas has come and gone officials are making a wish list and checking it twice in anticipation of the president-elect's proposed federal stimulus package.

Consultant and onetime acting manager Dennis Collison offered up several ideas for the council to consider. He and the department of public works committee had plans to sit down and hash out the details.

He threw out suggestions including expanding Capac Road to three lanes from Hunters Crossing to Koehn Rd., water and sewer fixes needed at Donald Rd. and construction of a new water tower.

The only hitch is that municipalities will need to have the plans drawn up in advance and pay that bill. It appears that the Obama plan will stipulate all projects must be underway within 180 days of approval. That fact alone has officials making plans now despite the fact Obama has yet to take office or see the legislation passed.

Of Capac's project wish list, drawings for a water tower already exists. It's estimated engineering work for the three lane expansion could cost up to $85,000 although the St. Clair County Road Commission would be willing to do the work in house for less, Collison said.

Plans for a gravity fed sewer line to connect to the forced main would cost about $7,500.

Until all the specifics of the Obama plan are revealed, Weinfeld and the MML will continue to lobby on behalf of hometowns across the state.

The MML is planning to present a list of priority infrastructure projects to the Michigan Congressional delegation, state Legislature, Gov. Granholm and the incoming Obama administration.

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