Westport still awaiting stimulus funds for paving projects
Published 1:04 am, Wednesday, January 20, 2010
In Westport, there's a money problem.
The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is to save jobs, stimulate the economy and provide much-needed funds to municipalities. In 2009, Westport was approved to receive approximately $900,000 from ARRA for road maintenance, but the town is still waiting to get through the red tape and begin work.
"We haven't gotten a cent yet and ... I don't know of any towns around that have gotten anything, so it's kind of ludicrous," said Stephen Edwards, director of the town's Public Works Department. "That $900,000 has been extremely difficult to apply for and I can't say `to obtain,' because I haven't obtained it yet."
The ARRA, commonly known as the stimulus package or stimulus plan, totals $787 billion and includes spending on infrastructure throughout the country. In Connecticut, $1.7 billion has been awarded for numerous projects, ranging from bridge repairs and maintenance to special education funding.
Most of that money goes directly to state departments, and municipalities have to apply for it. While the $1.7 billion has already been approved for various projects throughout the state, only $317 million has been received. Municipalities are waiting for the help they've been promised, and that includes Westport.
"It hasn't helped out because I haven't got it," Edwards said. "You drive around my roads and I have pot holes. I can't start the work until I get the money."
Edwards hoped that the money would come in September 2009, but that never happened. It's now too late to do any road work until the spring, when he expects the stimulus money to start flowing.
During the 2009-10 budget cycle, as the town sought to reign in spending to keep the tax increase to a minimum, one of the biggest cuts came to the Public Works Department's road maintenance budget. Typically, more than $1 million is allocated for road maintenance, so when a large cut was approved it was anticipated that the stimulus funding would fill the gap.
Public works keeps a schedule of what roads need the most work, and it aims to repave 10 miles of road each year.
"They significantly sliced and diced my budget and my money has reduced and the state money has so many strings attached to it that my program has been significantly impacted," Edwards said.
With the stimulus money difficult to come by, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said that the town can't count on state and federal money as the budget is worked on this year.
"Money flows slowly from the federal government, particularly when it has to go through the state government. It doesn't trickle down very quickly, and that's a fact of life," Joseloff said. "Any money we get, the taxpayer will benefit, but you can't count on the feds or the state to bail us out. We have to do it on our own."
He's told the town departments to come in with a flat budget compared to last year, but he said that if a tax increase is kept at zero percent, which happened last year, then services will be impacted.
"There's only so much you can squeeze out before you impact services, and people are going to have to realize that," Joseloff said.
While round one of the stimulus money has yet to be completed, Edwards isn't confident that a significant amount of money can be received in round two this year.
"Just looking at it very quickly, they're saying that the second round has to be projects that can be done in 90 days," Edwards said. "With the knowledge we have, you can't get a signature from the authorities in 90 days."