published Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

County could finalize stimulus projects today

by Dan Whisenhunt
Audio clip

Todd Leamon

The Hamilton County Commission today likely will approve spending most of the $1.35 million it received for paving projects, courtesy of federal stimulus money.

Though local Republicans make up a majority of the commission's nine-member panel, party members said they dare not turn down money for needed projects. Republicans did not support passing the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus.

"I wasn't for the stimulus when it passed," said Republican Commissioner Larry Henry. "But bottom line is: It did pass and the money's out there. I certainly don't want to turn the money back. We've got some roads in the district I represent that are in bad need of repairs."

On May 5, the county voted to pave Champion and Harrison Ooltewah roads. The county likely will approve paving contracts for seven additional roads today.

Marty Von Schaaf, president of the Republican Hamilton County Pachyderm Club, said he understands Republican commissioners voting for the projects.

"You don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Mr. Von Schaaf said. "Now, with that said, is it my choice that we would use that kind of money? It's not my first choice."

Commissioner Richard Casavant, a Republican, said he would vote to approve the projects because the money is available.

County stimulus-funded road paving projects

Approved May 5:

* Champion Road,

* Harrison Ooltewah Road

For approval today:

* Standifer Gap Road

* Woodland Drive

* Fairview Road

* Gold Point Circle

* Lovell Road

* Moses Road

* Crabtree Road

Source: Hamilton County Commission

"Certainly impairing future generations with debt is a huge problem, but the money's coming this way," he said. "We're certainly putting it to good use."

Fellow Republican Commissioner Bill Hullander said the stimulus has "been of some benefit" to the county and agreed that, if the money is there, the county should use it.

Some of the paving contracts will go to Cookeville, Tenn.-based Highways Inc.

Mark Odom, vice president of Highways Inc., said stimulus-funded projects have provided his company with at least $24 million in additional contracts, which has kept his company from having to lay off workers and has increased its payroll by at least 12 employees.

The stimulus "probably just kept things level," he said, which, in his view, means the stimulus worked. On any given day, his company employs in Hamilton County 36 highway workers and another 24 supplier workers.

County Engineer Todd Leamon said the county decided to do the projects at the same time to take advantage of what's known as "paving season," which begins in April when temperatures start getting warm enough to apply asphalt. Mr. Leamon said the roads "probably" would have been paved eventually.

"They were on our priority paving list," Mr. Leamon said. "Most of them haven't been paved for 15 years. They had cracking or potholes."

View complete coverage of government stimulus funded projects

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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