By Joyce Kelley
U.S. Rep. James McGovern assured a room of about 100 local officials that the state’s anticipated $8.7 billion in stimulus funds will be fairly distributed, not sent to Boston.
“There are days when I think my job is tough, and then I think of you – you have it tougher, you’re on the ground, you’re on the front lines,” McGovern told town, school and state officials at yesterday’s special briefing on the federal stimulus package at Franklin’s Municipal Building.
“There is $8.7 billion coming to Massachusetts, and the whole point is to have it work. My hope is, there’s something for everyone, but it’s the state’s discretion,” said McGovern, D-3rd.
The money will be divvied up in the following categories: clean energy and environment, $482 million; education, $1.9 billion ; housing, $430 million; labor and work force development, $9 million; public safety and security, $71 million; safety net, $3.5 billion; technology and research, $1.3 billion ; and transportation, $809 million.
Jeffrey Simon, the state director of infrastructure investment, also emphasized that the state is going to invest equitably across Massachusetts, saying, “We really are dealing in times that have no precedent.”
“The unemployment numbers are staggering, and at the same time unemployment goes up, revenues go down and continue to go down,” he said.
Simon, who outlined the process the state will use in distributing the money, said he’s never seen such harmony and effort between the state and federal governments working toward an end.
The Massachusetts Economic Recovery Plan officials have created has three parts: immediate relief, investing in a better tomorrow, and reforming state government, he said.
Projects that offer value to a community and stimulate its economy will be given priority, said Simon.
The best shot communities have for getting funds for municipal buildings is by applying for energy-efficiency improvements, Simon said.
The stimulus package stipulates that states must use their allotted funds in 27 months or the money goes back into the federal pool and is redistributed to other states, he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick has made it clear that Massachusetts must use every penny, and rather than be a “loser” state, be one that benefits from other states’ unused funds, said Simon.
“There is tremendous time pressure on getting projects done and out,” said Simon.
The state needs another 30 to 45 days before it can provide municipalities guidance on whether particular projects qualify for funds, and how to apply for them, he said.
“We’re putting out a tremendous amount of money very quickly,” which increases the need for monitoring, said Simon.
“You’ll see public involvement and reporting to the public in ways that just haven’t been done before,” Simon said.
The level of transparency will be “unprecedented,” he said.
Only a handful of officials asked questions following the presentation.
Worcester City Councilor Kathleen M. Toomey advocated for keeping jobs in Massachusetts to help area businesses and the local economy.
Toomey wants to award contracts to local businesses, even if they’re not the lowest bidder.
“I’d like to be able to keep this money in our own state,” she said.
State Sen. James B. Eldridge, D-Acton, said he wants money dedicated for homelessness prevention.
“That’s something we’re definitely advocating for,” said Eldridge.
Shrewsbury Town Manager Daniel Morgado and Hopkinton’s Department of Public Works Board Chairman Daniel McIntyre both said their towns would be better off getting grants than zero-percent loans to fund projects.
McGovern noted, “There’s an awful lot of money coming to the state, but it doesn’t solve every problem.”
At the start of the presentation, Franklin Town Administrator and President of the Massachusetts Municipal Association Jeffrey D. Nutting, attempted to secure additional money for his town by charging a $10 door charge, but attendees didn’t bite, only laughed.
Yesterday’s presentation can be viewed live stream on Franklin’s Web site, www.franklinma.virtualtownhall.net.