Stimulus Money Trickles In


Even before President Barack Obama took office in January, the city began planning for stimulus dollars, outlining the pockets of Alexandria that federal funds would benefit most.

When it became pretty clear last fall that there was going to be a stimulus bill, the city came up with a list of potential of projects to be funded, not really knowing whats going to be out there, said Bernie Caton, the citys legislative director.

The planning, vetting and subsequent applications submitted to take advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have resulted in a benefit of about $41.6 million, according to a city spokesperson, with applications still pending.

But only $11.9 million has actually been awarded. About $5.2 million has been set aside for Alexandria but not yet awarded, while about $14.7 million worth of stimulus money is still up in the air, though the city has applied for it. And other city departments, including the citys school system, expect to receive $9.8 million in stimulus funds.

The city has gained funding for an array of programs ranging from a courthouse renovation to relief and education for the homeless and those in danger of homelessness looking to gain self-sustainability.

Some funds were competitive, grants available but unallocated by the federal government, and some were allocated to the city under the management of City Manager Jim Hartmann.

The city received about $241,000 in the Community Services Block Grant, which will help low-income residents take advantage of available dental services, give job training to ex-convicts and provide utility assistance, including utility management education, to low-income city residents, Communications Officer Andrea Blackford said in an email.

Another grant, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, awarded about $324,000 to improve the citys police, sheriff and court departments.

From $35,000 worth of bulletproof windows at the courthouse to an $18,000 firearms training system for police officers to $50,000 for enhanced support of a mentoring program for at-risk youth, the federal dollars are going toward one-time fixes (like security for courthouse staffers) and long-term, goal-oriented solutions (like encouraging the citys youth away from criminal behavior).

Most of the stimulus-funded programs were already on the city governments wish list but the grants and allocations allowed them to become reality in what is still a tough budget year.
Most of these projects were things that we want to do but in general could not afford to, Caton said.

Some of the programs were guided by the Recovery Acts tenets, though they were often one in the same with the citys needs, and the city had the opportunity to customize the money to issues unique to Alexandria, like the Byrne Grant that provided new crime-fighting equipment and advanced technology to public safety departments while at the same time providing funds for youth programs for at-risk children and teenagers.

Some of the programs have been pushed in a certain direction because of the stimulus requirements and the types of programs that are funded by the stimulus package, Caton said. But at the same time there were some things where we had the latitude to help figure out how to help the city.

The money does not flow so freely though. The city still has 10 pending grant applications, half of which are competitive, meaning there is no money guaranteed. A very competitive program and highly desirable fund for the citys purposes and for other state jurisdictions is the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, Caton said. The city needs new firehouses, renovations to old ones and more manpower.

The city was denied $18,000 to restore money cut from the budget for a Durant Center employee who assisted with the Office of the Arts time-consuming but important events and projects like the Alexandria Film Festival and the Festival of the Arts, according to the grant application.

Restoration of the seasonal employee will allow the community events to continue while also allowing full-time staff within the Office of the Arts to focus on a number of foundation-building studies and projects that are needed in order to progress the development of the office and the growth of the arts within the city, the denied grant application stated.

Some of the citys savings will be apparent only after three years. Alexandria took advantage of a program that allowed the federal government to subsidize the interest localities pay on loans for capital improvement projects major developments like making over Landmark Mall, for instance. Some of the money has already been accounted for in existing projects, Caton said.

I think theres been help from both the stimulus package and stimulus staff in terms of trying to find creative and helpful ways to use this money.