Projects lined up in Tampa Bay area, ready for arrival of stimulus cash

TAMPA — Less than a month ago, President Obama signed the $789 billion economic stimulus package into law.

Now local officials are wondering: Where's the money?

At a Tampa City Council meeting last week, chairman Tom Scott asked economic development manager Mark Huey when the cash would start flowing to Tampa.

We don't know, Huey said.

About $12.2 billion — 1.5 percent of the entire federal package — is headed to Florida, which has about 6 percent of the country's population.

Some of that money is going to state agencies to distribute.

An example: $302 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. A little more than half of that money — intended to help low-income people weatherize their homes — will be available through competitive grants from the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

But more than $200 million already is on its way directly from the federal government to local agencies in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

On March 24, Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit will host a public meeting on how the bus agency should spend its $15 million piece of the economic stimulus pie.

"It's going to do exactly what it's designed to do. Create jobs. We're going to try to create as many here as possible," said Ed Crawford, government affairs director for HART.

But the agency's biggest planned expense — $8.9 million for new buses and vans — will go to a company in California.

"We don't build buses in Tampa," Crawford said, "so we have to go where they're building buses." Local people, he said, will be hired for a $750,000 bus-painting project.

In Pinellas County, area police chiefs are scheduled to meet Tuesday with Sheriff Jim Coats to devise a plan for dividing $3.1 million in stimulus money coming from the Department of Justice.

The money could be used to buy police cruisers, technology, or training. It could be used on big-ticket projects for the county, or smaller projects spread across 13 jurisdictions, said Cathy Korr, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office grants administrator.

County law enforcement officials have until May 18 to submit a list of projects, which have to be approved by the Pinellas County Commission.

Last week, local housing agencies got word of federal money that will be sent directly to them from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.

Tampa will get $1 million in community development block grant money. That can pay for things like putting in sidewalks, making home repairs or building parks.

Cyndy Miller, Tampa's director of growth management and development services, says those types of projects end up putting money in the paychecks of local people. "Building a park actually provides jobs to people who build parks," she said.

Tampa also will receive $1.5 million from HUD for homeless prevention. Miller said she's still gathering information on federal guidelines for how to spend the money. But it likely will go to local nonprofits that do things like help people pay utility bills and for groceries.

"This is a big amount of money that we've never had before," Miller said. "Homeless prevention probably will not create a job. But it will help keep people in their homes, especially those that have lost their jobs or had their hours cut."

Education programs in the Tampa Bay area are expected to start seeing the first of $145 million by the end of the month.

"While we know these funds will not solve our financial issues, we are hoping to be able to maximize their impact on our district," said Heather Fiorentino, superintendent of Pasco schools, which is slated to get $10.9 million for low-income schools.

One big question remains: What's going to happen with $1.3 billion for highways and bridges? The Florida Department of Transportation will distribute $900,000. Vice President Joe Biden came to Miami last week to announce $2.1 million that will pay for relocating a bus terminal. Another $400 million will be subject to local discretion.

Don Skelton, secretary for the state Department of Transportation's District 7, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, says a $521 million toll road connecting Interstate 4 to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway is the top priority.

Money for much-needed local infrastructure projects — such as upgrades to crumbling water and wastewater systems — appears headed to a state revolving loan fund that would be available at low or no interest.

"These things are being handled in a variety of ways," said Hillsborough's public affairs director, Edith Stewart. "We do have shovel-ready projects if we can actually get the funds here."

Times staff writers Ron Matus and Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

fast facts

STIMULUS MONEY

More than $200 million in federal stimulus money already is on its way to schools, law enforcement, transportation and housing agencies in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Much of the money is expected to be here in a few weeks. Here's a look at where some of it is going:

Law enforcement — $7.8 million

Includes $1.7 million for the Tampa Police Department, $595,000 for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and $3.1 million for Pinellas County.

Transit — $33 million

Includes $15 million for Hillsborough County, $15 million for Pinellas County and $3 million for Pasco County.

Housing — $40.1 million

Includes $10.5 million for the Tampa Housing Authority, $1.3 million for the Pinellas County Housing Authority, and $1.3 million for the Clearwater Housing Authority.

Education — $145 million

Includes $35.4 million in Hillsborough and $21 million in Pinellas for low-income schools, and $44 million in Hillsborough and $13.8 million in Pasco for special education programs.

On the Web

You can follow the federal economic stimulus money at www.recovery.gov. Thirty-six states have already linked their own stimulus Web sites to the page. Florida is not among them.

Here's a link for a map of state recovery sites:
www.recovery.gov/?q=content/state-recovery-page

Projects lined up in Tampa Bay area, ready for arrival of stimulus cash 03/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 1:49pm]

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