Stimulus dollars tough to spend

Lisa Depies

As the trillions of dollars from the federal government’s stimulus package trickled down to the local level, city of Geneseo officials learned they’d receive $196,006 for roadwork ... but the money came with conditions.

“The funds can only be applied to federally designated roads in town,” explained public service superintendent John VanDeWoestyne.

“Decades ago, certain roads were designated ‘major carriers’ and became eligible for federal money,” he said. “We only have about six or seven streets in town we can use this money on.”

The stimulus money also is designated only for road, bridge or railway work, which means water and sewer repair or replacement is ineligible for federal money.

Typically, when a street is replaced, the city likes to update the water and sewer lines below.

“We’ve put new streets over old infrastructure before but it’s a judgement call,” said VanDeWoestyne.

And, to make matters trickier, the federal government wants cities to select projects that require little engineering work or paperwork — “The simpler the projects, the better. They want to get these rolling,” said VanDeWoestyne.

To make sure cities move quickly on their projects, the government has given local municipalities less than a month to submit projects.

“We have to pick a project by March 25,” said VanDeWoestyne. “This is ‘use it or lose it’ money.”

As a result, a special city meeting was needed on March 9 to select a stimulus funds project, which was then approved by the city council on March 10.

Geneseo plans to use its $196,006 to micro-surface sections of federally approved roads.

“Micro-surface isn’t milling or overlaying, it’s similar to a slurry seal, however it’s a little more elaborate process,” he said. “It goes down thicker  and is a more aggressive type of sealing.”

Geneseo hasn’t used the micro-surfacing process before, however VanDeWoestyne said he’s seen it done in other communities and added it’s used frequently in the Quad Cities. Slurry seal, which Geneseo has used in the past, isn’t eligible for federal money.

With stimulus dollars, the city plans to micro-surface Ogden Avenue, North Russell (from Exchange to Ogden), North Street (from Oakwood to Chicago), Main Street (from Oakwood to Chicago) and one block of Exchange Street (from State to Center).

“Micro-surface was where we felt we could get the most bang for our buck and serve the greatest percentage of the population,” said VanDeWoestyne.

All of the roads listed, with the exception of the segment of Exchange Street, are “in reasonably good shape” he said. “This will improve them.” Micro-surfacing is designed to add seven to 12 years to the lifespan of a road.

“It’s the best option. We were looking at milling and overlaying in a couple of places, but we felt we could do the most with the money we’re allowed with micro-surfacing.”

VanDeWoestyne said he hopes to complete the projects later this year, but timeframe depends on how quickly the government can approve the project.

Once work starts, VanDeWoestyne estimates the entire project will take about a week. “I don’t think people who live on those streets will be inconvenienced for more than a day or so.”

Though city officials are happy to receive funding from the federal government, they say they wish they had more flexibility in deciding how the money was spent.

“We thought we were going to be able to identify areas in town that needed work and then submit projects and they’d tell us ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” said VanDeWoestyne. “Instead, we were notified by mail that we’d been alloted $196,006 and had to submit a project by March 25. The federal government is putting this on the fast track.

“(Receiving the money) is good news, and yet it’s not necessarily good news,” he said. “It’s a dilemma, and they didn’t give us any time. We’ve got work all over town that needs to be done, and we thought we’d be putting together a list for them. This is just one of the things that’s frustrating about the stimulus package.”

“Had we been able to choose the streets we wanted, the money would have been better spent,” said alderman Ed Deener.

“It’s a good deal, but there are a lot of strings attached,” said alderman Kevin Peterson. “This isn’t just free money.”