Tennessee: Money maze ties up stimulus path

Tennessee: Money maze ties up stimulus path

March 9th, 2009 by Matt Wilson in Local Regional News

Ask most government officials about when, where and how federal stimulus money will come in, and they'll give a similar answer: It's complicated.

"We're trying to do the best we can to understand it ourselves and to then communicate with people at the local level," Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz said. "There's not a lot of free money in this."


* May 3: Federal agencies to make performance plans available, report allocations for entitlement programs

* May 15: Federal financial reports available

* May 20: Federal agencies to begin reporting competitive grants and contracts

* July 15: State and local agencies receiving federal funds to start reporting on spending

Source: Recovery.gov

Mr. Goetz said some money will go directly to local agencies in the form of grants, while other money will come through various state agencies.

Meanwhile, local officials are looking for guidance from the state as to what's coming their way.

Dan Saieed, development director for Hamilton County, said he hopes to have something to report to administrators in the next week or so.

"Information is really just coming out right now," he said.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has said he believes the city is "well positioned to compete" for funding.

Some money is guaranteed, such as about $10 million for Chattanooga-area roads, but other grants require applications.

Among the grants for which city officials are applying is one that would allow Police Chief Freeman Cooper to hire 50 more officers.

Almost all of the $787 billion stimulus must be spent in the next two years, according to the legislation Congress passed last year.

The federal Recovery.org Web site states that agencies receiving federal funding must begin reporting by July 15 on how they spend it.

Mr. Goetz said officials also are trying to figure out how to distribute the money quickly while living up to accountability standards.

Part of the problem for officials is that details of what's coming and how it can be spent are a moving target.

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said last week that state officials "get a different answer every day" from federal policy makers.

State and local officials also must be careful about what money they will accept. After the two-year period funds will be available, officials will be required to keep programs going even after federal dollars dry up.

"Those dollars are going to disappear, and you've got to make them up somewhere," Mr. Goetz said.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey said state lawmakers are being very careful about what funding they will accept.

Likewise, he said some funding is far more than the state ever has spent on other projects. For instance, he said Tennessee will get $97 million for home weatherization while the state has spent, at most, $6 million in previous years to weatherize homes.

"Who's going to administer this?" he asked.

Mr. Goetz said most of the avenues for federal money to flow through the state into local agencies already exist, which means officials at least won't have to build new mechanisms to take it in. But he said he understands that the existing mechanisms may be overwhelmed by the windfall.

"What we may well do is bid out the actual work on a regional or statewide basis so we can have the proper accountability," Mr. Goetz said.