Federal funds provide relief for struggling agencies
photo by Lance Henderson
On Recovery.gov, the Obama Administration’s Web site designed to track the stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), there is an excerpt from a Feb. 9 memo from President Obama to his heads of staff:
“We cannot overstate the importance of this effort. We are asking the American people to trust their government with an unprecedented level of funding to address the economic emergency. In return, we must prove to them that their dollars are being invested in initiatives and strategies that make a difference in their communities and across the country….”
As of press time, more than $102 billion in federal stimulus money has been made available to the states, and of that, more than $36 billion has already been paid out. Over the next two years, a total of $778 billion will be made available for tax relief, infrastructure projects, health care, energy efficiency upgrades, state and local fiscal relief and overall “protecting the vulnerable” during tough economic times.
As information becomes available, Recovery.org is giving citizens information on where, specifically, that money is being spent.
We at The Bellingham Business Journal thought it only right that we keep our readers abreast of stimulus money at work right here in Whatcom County. From new buses for the Whatcom Transportation Authority to runway repairs at the Bellingham International Airport, here are some examples of how that money is being put to work.
Bellingham International Airport for pavement improvements, upgrades
At the Bellingham International Airport, $3.3 million of federal stimulus recently touched down as part of $44 million from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to modernize airport facilities.
The money is landing at the airport not a moment too soon, because its pavement could use some work.
Art Choat, aviation director for the Port of Bellingham, said the airport keeps a running five-year capital improvement plan with the FAA, and as major repairs are noticed, the plan is modified to prepare for improvements.
The airport already had plans to upgrade the airport’s apron, the area designated for loading, unloading and maintaining aircraft, from concrete to asphalt, and in July 2008, the airport noticed some failing pavement on one of their taxi ways.
“In late November/early December, the FAA called to confirm these two projects would meet the quick timelines for funding under the ARRA of 2009,” Choat said in an e-mail interview. “We assured them we could meet timelines, and they committed the ARRA funding for these two projects.”
Choat said the money is good for Whatcom County and the airport because it will enhance safety and accommodate the growing fleet of aircraft at the airport. It will also bring jobs.
“The engineering and construction portion of these two projects will support approximately 45 jobs for a six- month period, and the completed projects will result in retaining approximately six full-time positions, as well as have the potential of creating an additional 12 full-time jobs,” Choat said.
Choat said investing in the airport is investing in the local business community.
“[The airport] is very important to Whatcom County as an economic engine. Having several air carriers, which currently service seven cities with direct, non-stop service, is one reason why businesses stay in Whatcom County, and why new businesses locate in
Ferndale clinic to get new doctor, dentist
As the economy hits tough times, unemployment spikes and hundreds of thousands of people become uninsured over night.
Understanding this fact, the Obama administration has made $338 million available for the more than 1,500 community health centers across the nation that act as a foundation for low-income and uninsured access to basic medical and dental care. The money was made available through a formula based on how many uninsured patients the centers see a year.
As part of this money, Bellingham’s Interfaith Community Health Center received slightly more than $200,000 to meet increased demand. The center will use this money to expedite the addition of one doctor and one dentist at its Ferndale clinic.
“We were planning on adding an additional dentist and an additional medical provider there in July 2009, and the federal stimulus funds certainly allow us to do that with greater confidence that we can keep the ship afloat,” said Desmond Skubi, executive director for the Interfaith Community Health Center, which has clinics in Bellingham, Ferndale and Point Roberts. “That will significantly expand our capacity for services out there.”
Skubi said visits to their clinics are up 15 percent over last year, but he attributes much of this growth to the recently opened Ferndale clinic.
However, the number of uninsured patients is also going up.
“As people lose jobs, they tend to lose health insurance as well, and we’re there to serve people regardless of their ability to pay. So again we are seeing a significantly increased number of uninsured people compared to a year ago,” Skubi said.
Skubi said while he is very grateful for the stimulus money, it is counter-balancing deep cuts from the state budget.
“We are still projecting a loss to the organization of $250,000 this year,” Skubi said.
Skubi said he is urging his care providers to see 16 to 17 patients a day to meet increased demand, but also to bring his organization out of a slowdown caused by a transition to digital medical records.
“Productivity is the key to keeping services available, but also to keeping ourselves afloat,” he said.
Housing authorities to weatherize, modernize three developments
When it comes to modernization projects, the Bellingham/Whatcom Housing Authorities are like dogs on a leash. They have the plans and the desire — they just need the opportunity.
Their wish was granted when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave $775,000 and $159,000 in stimulus money to the Bellingham and Whatcom County authorities, respectively, as part of more than $40 million for public housing improvements.
Gary Shinpaugh, maintenance director for the joint housing authorities, said they keep a five-year priority plan for improvements, so when the government called for “shovel-ready projects,” they were ready.
With this money, they will modernize three of their developments to make them more energy efficient. Both Hillside Homes on Yew Street and Falls Park Homes on Fraser Street will get new siding, windows and an upgrade to a gas heating system. Falls Park will also receive tankless water heaters.
The authorities will also re-side and weatherize Baycrest Homes on Loft Lane in Blaine.
“For years, we have targeted our projects to make them energy efficient. Essentially we are ahead of the game in that aspect,” Shinpaugh said.
Shinpaugh said the housing authorities normally receive an annual capital improvement budget, but that is mainly used on general maintenance, not comprehensive projects.
“Normally we would have to build up a couple of years worth of dollars to be able to do that sort of thing. This gives us an opportunity to hit it one time and maximize our work,” Shinpaugh said.
WTA to replace 11 buses
In a fleet of buses, you might expect to replace a few buses at a time over the years.
After inheriting an aging fleet of buses from the city of Bellingham, however, the Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) was faced with having to replace 38 buses from it’s fleet of 56 all at one time.
“They were all old and none of them had wheelchair lifts, so we had this huge, $16.6 million replacement project on our hands,” said Maureen McCarthy, community relations director for WTA.
Needless to say, when the agency received approximately $1.65 million in stimulus money, it was graciously accepted.
“It was dreamy,” McCarthy said. “We were very relieved and very happy when we realized we were going to have this boost.”
That $1.65 million will join up with $1.9 million recently received from federal appropriations and other grant monies to make up 80 percent of an 11-bus order to Gillig Corporation, a transit bus manufacturer in San Francisco. The remaining 20 percent will be made up in federal match funds.
WTA had already made a 14-bus order previously, so it now has 25 buses due to roll out this summer and fall. The new buses will be low-floor, bio-diesel compatible and will meet clean air standards for 2012. They will also have a new logo treatment running down the side.
“As replacements, they won’t improve service, but what they will do is keep us from having to degrade service. If we weren’t able to replace these buses, we would have to reduce service later and that would have an impact on jobs,” McCarthy said.
For WTA, McCarthy said these funds came right in-time for them to be able to continue serving Whatcom County, which has the highest bus ridership in the country.
“We would hate, more than anything, after rolling out all this service and getting people to jump onboard, to begin to degrade the system,” she said.