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The Suburbanite
  • Stimulus in Stark: What did $116 million buy you?

  • Stark County has received more than $116 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed by President Obama one year ago today.2/17 The money has helped fund road and bridge improvements, housing and energy efficiency upgrades and jobs for teachers in nearly every Stark County school district.

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  • Editor’s note
    The Repository and The Independent worked together on a series about federal stimulus spending that starts today. The collaboration is a first.
    The Rep and The Inde both have been around for generations, and they have a long tradition of competing hard. The competition usually serves readers well.
    Yet the two newspapers also share a corporate parent. Occasionally, as with the stimulus series, cooperating can serve readers just as well as competing. Our common ownership makes working together possible.
    Our series runs daily through Saturday. Enjoy.
    Jeff Gauger, Executive Editor, The Repository
    It started as a massive federal spending bill designed to jump-start the economy. One year later, it has meant road and bridge improvements throughout Stark County, housing and energy efficiency upgrades in Canton, expanded programs to help Stark County’s poor, and jobs for teachers in nearly every county school district.
    Money from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act started to filter to Stark County just weeks after President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill on Feb. 17, 2009.
    So far, more than $116 million has been committed to Stark County projects. Yet, the impact the money has had on the county’s economy has been difficult to calculate.
    Graphic: Projects in Stark County funded by stimulus money
    COLLABORATION
    To get a clearer, more comprehensive picture of what the millions of dollars in government aid looks like in Stark County, reporters from The Repository and The Independent analyzed the nearly 200 awards of stimulus dollars that came to 100 schools, government, nonprofits and social service agencies around the county.
    The analysis focused on jobs and programs directly funded by the stimulus, such as 10 bus drivers at the Stark Regional Transit Authority whose jobs were spared.
    It did not examine the impact of tax cuts, unemployment benefits and economic facility bonds — such as the $3.55 million for the Hercules project in Canton — that also are components of the stimulus package.
    Nor did we count the spin-off or indirect jobs that could have been affected by the stimulus, such as the people who could have lost their ride to work without the stimulus there to pay for SARTA’s 10 bus drivers and 15 new buses.
    “So much of the stimulus discussion is based on the jobs that were created by the people who built or worked on the buses, but for public transportation, we’re transporting people to school, work and to the doctor’s office, and those are basic human needs,” Executive Director Kirt Conrad said. “... The reality is that buses are what we are. If we don’t have buses, we can’t operate and that affects ... how people get to their jobs.”
    Page 2 of 3 - STIMULUS PURCHASES
    So what has $116 million in stimulus money bought for Stark County residents?
    • More than 600 jobs in Stark County. Agencies used their stimulus awards more often to retain employees rather than hire. The stimulus helped Canton City keep eight city police officers by funding their salaries and benefits for the next three years.
     
    • Job training. More than 250 people had enrolled in occupational skills training programs through one of the stimulus-funded Workforce Initiative Association programs. Many of those enrolled will graduate this summer.
     
    • Miles of newly paved or reconstructed roads, although most of the construction will start this spring. Parts of Interstate 77, U.S. Route 62 and state Route 800 will be resurfaced. A 2.5-mile stretch of Hills & Dales Road NW in Jackson Township will be widened.
     
    • A new Head Start program for low-income children younger than age 3 in Canton, Massillon and Alliance.
     
    • Eleven new cruisers for the Stark County Sheriff’s office, school buses for special-needs students at Lake Local and Marlington Local schools, an electric oven in Alliance City Schools, a dishwasher and sink in Canton City Schools and a new water well at Canton Local’s Harold R. Walker Elementary School.
     
    • Increased hours at the Richard D. Watkins Canton Community clinic. Nurse practitioners have added an additional day of availability as well as extended evening hours.
     
    • Upgrades to several Stark County and Canton city governmental office buildings to make them more energy efficient. Officials say the upgrades will help save taxpayer money through lower utility costs.
    ECONOMY STIMULATED?
    Whether these stimulus-funded programs have awakened our sleepy economy continues to be debated here, across the nation and in the halls of Congress where legislators now are considering whether to fund a second round of stimulus.
    The White House and many congressional Democrats say the stimulus has helped stop the economy’s precipitous slide and prevented another Great Depression. Without it, they say, unemployment would have been much worse.
    “It’s obviously only partially offset some of the damage done by what was the greatest recession since the Great Depression,” said Jared Bernstein, chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. But “it’s important to appreciate the reach of the act. How many different ways in which the act has helped to create jobs to help offset some of the pain of unemployment, to help some people maintain their health insurance, to help people make important investments. ... It’s equally true that there is more to be done, and this is something the president has emphasized with great urgency in recent weeks.”
    Critics of the stimulus bill point to high unemployment around the country as proof the stimulus program has done little to boost employment or help the economy. They say that the stimulus bill only created temporary jobs and increased the national debt.
    Page 3 of 3 - “We thought it was going to be an injection to bring unemployment down or hold it at 8 percent,” said Jim Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth who is running for the 16th District congressional seat. “Clearly it’s not working.”
    Stark County planning officials already have met to identify possible projects the county could submit if a second round of stimulus funding is approved. Projects, such as coordinating traffic signals in the Belden Village area and building a bridge to allow the Towpath Trail to cross into Bolivar have been named as possibilities.
    Repository writer Robert Wang and Independent writer Matthew Rink contributed to this report.