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$100,000 in doorbells stimulates contempt

The ink is barely dry on the economic stimulus package — the priciest piece of legislation ever to become law — and people nationwide are starting to give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to each of the thousands of proposed "shovel ready" projects vying for federal funding and the prospect of new jobs.

Kudos to John Stenard of St. Petersburg for e-mailing me Wednesday after perusing details of some projects listed on a Web site called Stimulus Watch. This clever online tool was built by some George Mason University folks and helps rank the worthiness of the many projects seeking federal backing.

Stenard asked me about a Mississippi project in the town of Laurel. The project seeks about $100,000 to buy two doorbells apiece for 632 housing units for the elderly.

"Imagine if every town wanted this much to install doorbells," Stenard stated. "I am all in favor of trying to re-stimulate the economy, but this useless 'fat' is absolutely disgusting."

Stenard's got plenty of support. A cool feature of stimuluswatch.org lets viewers vote "yes" or "no" on each proposed project to this question: Is this project critical?

It's important to note that the voting volume so far is modest because the Web site is just starting to get attention. But the Laurel doorbell project is the most panned project in the country. A "yes" vote produces a positive 1 while a "no" vote produces a negative 1.

As of Wednesday, the Laurel project was minus 4,066.

Which brings us to the hundreds of proposed "shovel ready" projects in Florida.

The project considered "least critical" statewide is the expansion of the Orange Line of Miami's Metrorail for the estimated cost of $2.5 million. Of 904 votes cast so far about this project, 85 percent panned it. Nationwide, 12 projects in other states were considered even less critical to the country.

The project considered "most critical" statewide is the city of Plantation's $1.5 million project to covert methane gas from waste water to help generate electricity. Of 44 votes cast thus far, 86 percent favored it. The project ranks 25th nationally among those voted most critical.

Among some cities located in the Tampa Bay area, proposed projects voted "least critical" range from adding an audio-visual center and weight room for $500,000 at a community center in Tampa to a $2.8 million water project in Clearwater estimated to add no jobs at all.

The best projects, those voted "most critical" so far in our area, include modest support for adding sidewalks to promote walking in Pinellas Park ($500,000, four new jobs), expanding sewer services in Largo ($2.4 million, 95 jobs), and resurfacing 10 miles of roadway in Tampa ($4 million, 40 new jobs).

St. Petersburg's proposed projects exist but are not included, because they were not submitted to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, whose project list was used to build this Web site.

The greater Tampa Bay area hopes to create nearly 50,000 jobs from all of the projects funded by the federal economic stimulus package.

We'll keep an eye on the biggest winners and losers among local projects. Go to the Web site and add your vote to the mix.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

$100,000 in doorbells stimulates contempt 02/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 11:26pm]
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