December 22, 2008

Obama's Billions: City requests $6.5 million in federal stimulus dollars

So you're a mid-sized industrial city in southeastern Wisconsin and the federal government offers to buy you anything you like. But there's a catch: You have to spend all of the money next year.

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.
While the projects lack glamour, they're effective in creating jobs, Hughes said. The general rule is city projects create one job for $100,000 in spending. If Racine gets all of its requests, it'd create about 65 construction jobs next year.

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."


  1. Let the spending frenzy begin. You can have your money for nothing and your debt for free. Even Becker is lining up for his. We can borrow from China and the Saudis until they call our note in and then the empire will come to a crashing end.

  2. Does Hughes even know what he's talking about?

  3. What happens to the taxpayers if every city in the USA asks for millions of dollars and gets it?

  4. What happens if we didn't apply and boy would the citizens be screaming if we didn't at least try.

    Becker better be lining up for his. We might as well get something. We would be fools not to.

    I am still waiting for any progress from the grant writer. It's been, what a year and nothing.

  5. One would think that Mayor Gary "Green" Becker could have something more creative such as
    More Solar and Wind power The shore line of Lake Michigan will be a great place to build some.
    Expanded bus lines to UW Parkside so kids could take the Greener buses vs the cars.
    Buy tear down and rebuild poorly maintained houses in the inner city allow working poor to live in them. Start at 245 Jones ST
    Expand the REC to better help educate youth.
    Fix the Rec center buildings

    Anon 5:59 you should hear the council meetings on Car 25. My guess is for every 10 grants done by say the RPD she might do one.
    For that matter the Health DEpt writes more. WHY does she have a job in this City?

  6. She is not a grant writer - she is a grant "facilitator".

  7. Grant facilitator, grant writer - doesn't matter. Someone is asking what progress she's made.

  8. What past experience does Hughes have regarding this topic?

  9. well, this will bring jobs to Racine and enhance our quality of life.....jeez.

  10. This money isn't free! We'll all be paying for it in the end. Perhaps the city should stop spending beyond their means and quit dreaming of unneccessary projects like a rooftop garden on top of the Library and paying for high priced unnecessary positions in city hall.

  11. Grant Writer, Grant Facilitator, the fact is she isn't doing anything productive. Kenosha is mopping up obtaining grants. Racine - nothing, nada. I used to write grants, it really isn't that hard to do. Some Kenosha firefighters did their own grant and got quite a few bucks for the city for fire detectors and paid the salaries of the ff to install them. The simple fact is that there has been nothing since she was hired. It takes concentration, the ability to connect and serious attention to the details.

  12. Oh, and if she was a grant facilitator, that means she didn't do anything all year, there were no grants to "facilitate" or oversee.

  13. The so-called grant writer was useless at the YWCA, why do you think she would be any better working for the City? She and the 'sleeping at the wheel' Board unfortunately sank the YWCA and its proud history of serving the women of Racine.