Stimulus leaves small towns out in the cold
April 14, 2009
When the federal government creates a one-size-fits-all solution that will “save us all,” the “us” that usually loses out is rural America.
Case in point ” Kremmling, Colorado.
President Obama’s stimulus package includes spending for public works projects to rebuild roads and infrastructure.
It sounds great. It echoes the success of FDR’s programs that put men to work in the ’30s building bridges and buildings that still stand today.
In order for projects to receive funding, they must be “shovel ready” ” a buzzword that means the project is ready to begin.
There isn’t a more “shovel ready” project than the replacement of the aged water lines in Kremmling. Even after extensive work last year, the lines are still leaking as much as 50 percent of the town’s treated water.
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It’s an expensive loss and a shocking one in an era when water is one of the most valuable commodities in the growing West.
Kremmling Town Manager Ted Soltis has been working around the clock and weekends to make sure the water line project is in line for $2 million in federal stimulus money.
He updated the town board earlier this month on his progress, noting that he wasn’t optimistic.
He said only about $32 million is available in Colorado for such projects, and Kremmling’s water line project is behind about $90 million worth of other requests, and that some $335 million in requests have been made in the state.
“I think the chances of us getting (that) money are extremely slim,” he told board members. In addition, the money would not be available until November, he said, which is too late to start the water line project.
In Colorado, November will be too late for many projects that will be delayed by winter weather into spring or early summer.
Despite the odds, Soltis said, “I’m not giving up; I’m sticking with it,” as he prepared to meet one of multiple deadlines the application process entails.
It’s not the odds that have Soltis and others frustrated. It’s the process.
It’s time consuming and expensive ” and almost impossible for rural towns with limited staff and resources. Larger towns with engineers on staff will have an easier chance affording the process.
In a recent article about the stimulus, Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin said he believes the engineering resources need to make any town project “shovel ready” are more than any small town can afford.
It’s understandable that the government doesn’t want the stimulus money to disappear down a rat hole, especially after the first bailout seems to have evaporated into the air (or unknown pockets). But it’s just as easy to question how the lengthy process and delay in fund release makes this a true “stimulus” at a time when it’s needed.
The public works portion of the stimulus package had the best of intentions and will undoubtedly have great benefits in urban and suburban areas.
But rural towns will most likely lose out in the face of the bureaucratic realities, and it’s unfortunate there weren’t provisions made for small towns in the stimulus.