MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 25, 2010

Cities fund improvement projects with federal money

By Keith Purtell
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Leaders in area cities say they benefited from millions of dollars in federal stimulus money.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 targeted tax relief and significant investments in education, transportation, health care, science and technology, and energy efficiency. Oklahoma received $2.6 billion.

The fact that ARRA funding was only temporary is not seen as a problem.

Tahlequah Mayor Ken Purdy said his city used bonds called Build America Bonds.

“Our citizens voted to approve the dedication of local sales tax dollars to help fund capital improvements in community,” he said. “We have stretched those dollars even farther by the way that the bonds that the city had benefited from the bonds that were issued to help obtain the funding for construction of the projects.”

Purdy said the stimulus money helped Tahlequah build roads and recreation facilities, launch beautification projects, and fund a new fire station planned for construction.

“I think that in the neighborhood of $2.5 million worth of the equivalent of funding that we’re able to use by the way that these bonds were structured and the interest that we didn’t have to pay.”

Wagoner Mayor James Jennings said the city received about $1.2 million.

“We’ve been able to replace thousands of feet of 80-year-old water lines,” he said. “And, we employed about 10 people in the community, which none of them at the time had jobs.”

Jennings said the project went so well that they will be able to repair additional water lines with left over money. Employing new people also went well.

“Some of the original 10 that we hired have already taken permanent jobs in the department of public works,” he said.

Because the funding was part of a loan package from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, approximately $900,000 will be paid back at a low interest rate. Jennings said he is pleased with the results.

“We’ve already been able to show the benefit to our community through the quality and quantity of water,” he said.

Muskogee County Commissioner Gene Wallace said federal stimulus money was crucial for  recent projects.

“Muskogee County received one ($400,000) for a bridge (Cloud Creek) in western Muskogee County in District Three,” he said. “We had a stimulus project for north Main Street ($1.1 million) out to the new hospital on Harris Road. The Cherokee Nation did a stimulus project ($65,000) for improvements on County Line Road.”

Also, Wallace said the Creek Nation used approximately $4.5 million in stimulus money to rehabilitate 10.5 miles of old 69 highway. He said neither the work on County Line Road nor north Main Street would have happened without stimulus money.

“We’re constantly looking for any revenue stream we can find to supplement our county budget,” he said. “To be able to build state-of-the-art highways, the county would never be able under normal circumstances be able to do these large projects without federal funds.”

Muskogee City Manager Greg Buckley said the City of Muskogee indirectly benefited from ARRA funding.

“We received some through our Oklahoma Water Resources Board loan, and that helped with Phase 1A of Coody Creek,” he said. “We were able to capitalize on some stimulus dollars through that loan program. That is the main 42-inch sewer line from the plant that goes along US 69.”

Reach Keith Purtell at 684-2925 or kpurtell @muskogeephoenix.com.