Board eyes project plans for stimulus

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Officials said Tuesday that putting a number on how much fundingthe city will receive as a result of the economic stimulus packageremains a murky proposition.

Williford Gearhart & Knight’s Mike McKenzie told theBrookhaven Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that so far there isstill no word from the government on how the funds will bedistributed or how much the city will receive.

“I know everyone’s interested in what we’re going to get out ofthat,” he said. “I can’t tell you. We don’t know yet how the moneywill funnel down to people like us.”

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McKenzie said there is a possibility the funds will bedistributed as loans, and pointed out that city officials will haveto be careful to only take on as much debt as the city can handleif that’s the case. He said while he, Public Works Director SteveMoreton and Water Department Director Lanny Dickey were discussingthe city’s needs, they didn’t get into that kind of budgeting sincethey needed to first compile a list.

McKenzie said there is good news and bad news regarding stimulusfunding. The bad news is that the city has more projects thanavailable funding, whatever amount that may be.

“The good news is that it was easy to come up with a reasonableamount to put on the request for ranking form,” he said. “As to howmuch we can handle, we didn’t attempt to answer that. We just wenton technical knowledge of what we need and came up with anumber.”

McKenzie said the state Department of Environmental Quality andthe Health Department have asked for a request for ranking form. Hesaid officials are hearing indicators that the funding might betreated the same way the state’s revolving funds usually are. Somewill be grants, some zero-interest loans, and some could bereverse-interest loans.

McKenzie said the numbers listed for the sewer and waterrequests were simply numbers to get the city in the ranking lists.The water project prediction was around $4.1 million, while thesewer numbers were considerably higher, at $14.5 million.

“This is simply a cost breakdown,” McKenzie said of the sewertotal. “Don’t let the number scare you, it’s just a number for nowto get us on the list.”

Many cities will throw their hats in the ring for the money,McKenzie said, but as the deadline gets closer, they will begin todrop out for various reasons.

“When you get to the finish line, they look at all theapplicants,” he said. “They look at who made it to the finish intime, and then at who needs it most. At some point they have tostrike a line, and if you’re above it you get the money; if you’rebelow, you may have to wait until next year.”

McKenzie gave the board copies of request for ranking forms inthe areas of water and sewer, and asked that the board give MayorBob Massengill permission to sign them so that they could go aheadand get them submitted.

“What we’re asking you to do tonight simply gets you in thegame,” he said.

Massengill told the board a little bit of deference would go along way when dealing with the requests.

“We have to be realistic if much of this is going to be inloans,” he said. “Some could be low interest rates, some could begrants. We can borrow some money but we have to determine how muchwe can comfortably pay back.”

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes asked if the $14 milliontotal was an accurate reflection of the community’s sewer needs.Massengill said it was best to simply list all the needs than totry and prioritize them this early in the game.

“We had needs from the entire community, and it would be amistake until we know how much money we had to decide which needswe fund,” Massengill said.

McKenzie assured the board that they could not be disqualifiedfrom receiving any money because they requested more than thegovernment wanted to give them.

“As we move forward it’s almost a state of flux,” he said. “Ifwe only ask for two million and thought we needed four million atsome point we can revise that. If competition has diminished, wecould change our request before the finish line.”

The city has also submitted a request for the paving of BrookwayBoulevard to be taken from anticipated funding from the stimulus.McKenzie said at this point there’s still no way to tell how muchmoney the city will receive for any project or how much the costwill be.

“We know the money’s going to have some stipulations on it,” hesaid. “There’s going to be some strings attached to the money butwe don’t know what they are.”