‘Free’ Money Headed to Alexandria

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Its not as simple a concept as the traditional Santa Claus delivering presents to a struggling family at Christmas, but the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the federal stimulus package, has City Hall creating a wish list for the moneys allocation.

And the complexity of the funding has the city checking that list over and over and over again.

The proposed list, comprised of needs from city departments, once consisted of hundreds of projects worth over $600 million on which the city hoped to capitalize. Officials did not expect to receive that vast amount of funding, but dubbed it part of their vetting process to allocate the money.

Since President Barack Obama signed the Act, that list has been narrowed down to about 25 to 30 projects, according to Mayor Bill Euille.

But receiving stimulus money and implementing it in the citys best interest seems to be consumed by the dense bureaucracy of federal lawmaking and the fluid nature of the stimulus package itself. Some money will also go through the state to be allocated by Governor Tim Kaine.

Everything is changing on the dime, hour by hour, day by day, Euille said, a day after spending four hours on the Hill with other mayors and Congressional delegations.

Officials would not prioritize the various projects they hope to achieve, but have set up an intergovernmental system to monitor the myriad stipulations and rules crowding around the free money.

Essentially, it is a task force that will make sure projects fundable by the Act wont fall through the cracks while making sure projects that qualify meet the necessary criteria.

The City Council will have ultimate say, according to a memo that places the body at the top of the chain, and although the city has its own priorities, they do not always parallel the funding available from the stimulus package. The city will have to prioritize according to other factors as well, like speed.

Expediency will be important, and those projects that are shovel ready will be more likely to receive federal funding, stated City Manager Jim Hartmann in a memo to the mayor and City Council that reflected a briefing from Congressman Jim Moran (D 8).

Certainly we have some potential to do things that were not otherwise on the priority list but are important long-range projects, City Manager Jim Hartmann said. Much of the energy efficiency items they have a long term payback for the city.So frankly we welcome those things.

The most recent published wish list (which consists of much more than 30 projects), contains everything from restructuring the city marina to repaving Interstate 395 to helping victims of the recession. Among 12 other committees in the workflow, the implementation committee has the job of obtaining the actual grant funding for such projects as well as clearing any hurdles to obtaining funding.

The implementation committee is going to look for, primarily, barriers to implementation, Hartmann said. If we have a priority project [we will] move it as fast as we can while being mindful of the rules and regulations that we have in the city.

Money from the stimulus package was not accounted for in the citys current proposed budget, so some of the money could supplant or offset budget gaps, even if the city cannot use them as part of the budget, perhaps having to utilize itemized grants based on the stimulus plans stipulations.

The devils going to be in the details, Hartmann said. Whether certain stimulus spending might be seen as supplanting the budget depends on if its allowed or not. If there are things in the budget where we could use stimulus funds instead of using city funds that could be used for other critical areas, certainly those will be considered.

Its hard to calculate what that net benefit may be. I think there will be a smaller portion of offsetting things within the budget, but it will be able to help us accomplish other goals that maybe were not funded in this budget.

Citing the fluid nature of the process and the numerous departments in line a
nd in need for funding, officials would not prioritize one project over another. But Hartmann gave the classic example of Polk School Gymnasium, a shovel ready project that has already been designed and is awaiting funding to be realized. Still, it is not yet certain if the project has a money pot available.

I dont have the authority to say this project is going to go ahead of that project, Euille said. Its going to be a total collaboration because we have every department and agency involved.

There is no distinct timeline on when final decisions will occur; it will take more time for the bills contents to take a tangible shape and the city will be doing more evaluations and setting priorities

I think the next two months are going to be very instrumental on what were going to be doing, Hartmann said.

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