F.C. Bids for Stimulus $

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was singled out by President Barack Obama during his signing of the $787 billion stimulus package last week for being one of only two governors to have already set up a website to accept applications for the stimulus money.

It was part of the president’s comments about his insistence that the funds be allocated swiftly to stem the tide of unemployment and severe continued contraction of the economy.

Last weekend, the City of Falls Church was recognized for being among the first jurisdictions in the commonwealth to utilize the web site to post a robust list of projects, including the construction of a new school, the City Center parking garage and the Arts Space at Pearson Square, for rapid funding under the president’s federal stimulus initiative.

Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester presented the list of 45 projects, ranging in cost from $52 million to $10,000, to the City Council Monday after she’d posted them on the governor’s website.

Taking her cue from a special briefing by Rep. Jim Moran and his staff last month (reported exclusively in the Jan. 22 News-Press), Mester said she’s been working for weeks drafting the list, in consultation with Moran’s staff, and was ready to go the minute the governor’s web site was fired up.

In an interview with the News-Press yesterday, Mester said that while many of the details of how the stimulus money will be disbursed remain up in the air, President Obama has made it clear that half of the $787 billion needs to be allocated within 120 days to avoid layoffs in school and public safety programs, and to fund “shovel ready” projects that are ready to build and that will employ construction and other workers.

Parameters of the funding remain fuzzy, but that’s because everything’s moving so fast, she said. The Virginia Municipal League just reported that the stimulus package allocates $1.7 billion for Virginia education, but it will be in the governor’s court, it is believed, to figure out how it will be doled out.

(In another federal funding for Northern Virginia development yesterday, the office of Rep. Moran reported that $53 in federal assistance for the region is included in the House’s FY09 Appropriations Bill that passed yesterday. The funds include $29,100,000 for the Metro rail to Dulles project and $3,998,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Habitat Conservation program. The Senate has yet to act on the legislation).

Included among the “shovel ready” projects in Mester’s stimulus money list are $1,965,000 toward replacement and renewal projects at the City’s four schools (another $50 million for a new school replacement was submitted, but listed as in the “planning” stage only), $876,000 toward completion of the Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant, whose funding is at risk with the state budget shortfall, $600,000 for upgrades at the fire station, and $200,000 for the City’s partnership with non-profits for the Pearson Square Arts Space.

In only the “engineering” stage is a submission for $5 million for the City’s share of the City Center parking garage. Mester said it could not go further because the City is awaiting site plan and other submissions from its partner in that project, Atlantic Realty.

She said that hopes remain the parking garage could be funded in stage two of the stimulus allocations, which have up to 18 months to be deployed.

Another $3 million in Broad Street streetscape and utility undergrounding is also in the “engineering” stage.

Examining Mester’s list Monday, Council members commented that some prioritization should accompany the list. Mester concurred, but said the first task was to get everyone up onto the site, then begin a to-be-determined deliberation or negotiation process to figure out what would or not get actual funding.

Her list included projects as modest as $30,000 for a “shovel ready” Crossman Park Raingarden and $10,000 for “best management practice” training for City Hall staff.

Storm water drainage, water quality, park and trail development, pedestrian and traffic calming efforts, and energy efficiency projects were also listed as “shovel ready” on the City’s list, as was $3 million to preserve operation of the City’s GEORGE bus system for the next five years.