City of Racine officials were confronted with this real-life version of Brewster's Millions last month as the US Conference of Mayors began preparing urban requests for a piece of the multi-multi-billion dollar economic stimulus package the federal government is putting together.
The idea is to create jobs building infrastructure as soon as possible, said City Administrator Ben Hughes. The trick is coming up with a list of projects that don't require planning or a long approval process; government official want the stimulus spent as soon as possible. (For example, they couldn't push for expanding the police department, because it would take too long to draw up plans and get the project finalized.)
With all of these limitations, the city turned to its capital projects budget. So what did they choose to ask Santa Federal Government for this year?
1. $5.6 million in new water and wastewater projects.
2. $900,000 for repaving streets.
"The dilemma we faced was the more high-profile projects require extensive planning," Hughes said. "They wouldn't have been able to meet the needs for the federal government. ... We didn't want to bypass the money, because it may free up money for some of those more glamorous projects."
The one major project tossed around City Hall was a rooftop garden for the public library, Hughes said. While they may have gotten it built next year, it wasn't a good fit because the library is thinking about moving, he said. (The stimulus is also a one-time source of money, so projects with ongoing operating costs were also ruled out.)
So sewer and wastewater projects it is.
A few of the requests include:
- Sanitary/sewer collection systems along Ohio Street and Michigan Boulevard.
- A new water main on State Street from La Salle Street to Memorial Drive
- And a water main on the northwestern edge of the city along Airline Road.
- Resurfacing (but not rebuilding) select neighborhood streets; the new surface will last about 15 years.
But the requests are just, well, requests. The government is expected to act on the stimulus package shortly after Barack Obama is sworn into office on Jan. 20. Racine should know if it's projects get funded by February, Hughes. That will give the city time to bid out the project in time for the start of construction season in April.
No matter what gets funded, Hughes said, taxpayers will benefit.
"It wouldn't just be make-believe work," he said. "We as a city would benefit by this. If we as a city don't do these in 2009, we still are going to need to do them 2-3 years down the road. Without federal stimulus money, we'll borrow the money and ask taxpayers to pay it off over time."