By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico
City and county administrations know all about needing a little extra dough. So, sure, when the federal government invited proposals for ways to spend stimulus money, grant writers in eastern New Mexico scrambled to get in line.
But while the creation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — a.k.a. the federal economic stimulus package — has made more funds available, it’s not exactly been an easy process to access them.
“This is the most confusing process I’ve ever been associated with in all my years in government,” said Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas, who’s been with the city more than 35 years.
The act was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17, 2009, less than a month after he took office.
Although the stimulus bill was quickly created, that may only be part of the reason local governments are finding it difficult to navigate through the paperwork.
“I think part of that is the problem, but the people who are administering it really don’t know what’s going on,” Thomas said. “You get different answers from people in the same office.”
Thomas and the city of Clovis, however, have received assurances about receiving the largest local grant so far. That’s an $830,000 grant to help repair the Hull Street overpass, which is estimated to cost around $8 million in all.
“There are a lot of areas where we’ve applied for, or are investigating the requirements and probably will be applying for (money), some related to law enforcement and some related to energy credit,” Thomas said.
The catch phrase for the proposals most likely to be approved, according to local administrators, is “shovel-ready.” Projects that can be started in the near future, in order to send extra money flowing into local economies, have been given priority.
So instead of large multi-million dollar proposals, many cities and counties are opting for smaller alternatives.
In Portales, $247,000 has been granted for the city to do landscaping in areas around the Roosevelt County Courthouse as well as on medians on Highway 70 heading out of the city.
“We’ve been awarded, but then we have to fill in a contract, then we have to go through a bunch of hoops and whistles before the money is released,” Portales Public Works Director Tom Howell said.
“We’ve applied for a lot of stuff, but that’s the only thing I’ve been notified about,” he said. “I don’t really know what the timeline is. The first round of awards went out already, but I understand there’s going to be a second round.”
Grant writers have been attending workshops in the state in order to navigate the complexities of asking for money. For instance, Curry County Assistant Manager Connie Harrison and city of Clovis grants coordinator Carole Moreno will be attending one in Albuquerque next week.
Whatever the obstacles, and despite the relatively small dent the awarded money might make in a large project, most are quite willing to do it.
Charlene Hardin, Roosevelt County manager, said a tentative $839,000 award will only cover about a mile of a 14-mile stretch on repairs on state Highway 88, which connects Portales with Arch, near the Texas border.
“It’s in pretty poor shape; it has no shoulders and there’s a lot of dairy truck traffic,” Hardin said. “It needs lots of help. This wouldn’t cover all of it, but it might give some residents hope.”
City of Clovis: $830,000 – Hull Street Overpass construction
Curry County: $920,000 – Improvements to state Highway 209 (between Broadview and Grady)
City of Portales: $247,000 – Landscaping around courthouse and on Highway 70 medians
Roosevelt County: $839,000 – Improvements on state Highway 88 between Portales and Arch
City of Tucumcari: $500,000 – Street improvements for Second Street
Applications submitted or to-be submitted
City of Clovis: $154,000 – Upgrade for Computer Aided Dispatch System
$139,000 – Upgrade for street lights and solar-panels
Curry County: $582,000 – Funds for three full-time sheriff deputies (for three years each)
City of Portales: Upgrading wastewater treatment plant, amount of funds undetermined
Roosevelt County: Acquiring and transport of 41,000-square foot building for fairgrounds, amount of funds undetermined
City of Tucumcari: More funds for Main Street program
Quay County: Replacement of windows and boiler (through central air system) at Courthouse, amount of funds undetermined
Curry County: $2 million for improvements to county roads around Cannon Air Force Base and north of Clovis.
Village of Melrose: $500,000 for wastewater improvements.
Source: City, county managers