COLUMBIA — One question on everyone’s minds these days: Where is all the stimulus money going?
Recently, the city of Columbia launched a new part of its Web site that lists local projects funded by federal stimulus grants. Citizens will be able to read about stimulus projects as the local government applies for them, announcements of new awards and reports on how branches of the local government are using the money.
To visit the Web site that tracks projects for which the city is seeking federal stimulus money, go to www.gocolumbiamo.com. On the right side of the home page, click the link called "Transparency in Local Government."
Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig Hopkins said one reason for creating the Web site is to keep the public informed about how stimulus money is being used.
“(There were a number of) staff here that felt it would be valuable to the public, Columbia at large and also the media to keep track of how the stimulus dollars are being awarded and how we apply for them,” Hopkins said.
A spreadsheet on the Web site lists five proposed projects that have already been awarded stimulus grants: sidewalk improvements, a COLT railroad bridge over U.S. 63, the extension of Stadium Boulevard, law enforcement equipment and programs, and energy efficiency and conservation projects. So far, the city has received a total of $14.3 million in awards.
Only two of the seven city projects have received the full amount the city requested. Projects for a wastewater treatment plant improvement and the Clear Creek pump station and for water main improvement have yet to receive money. So far, the city has asked for a total of $84.12 million.
“The Web site is a good way to coordinate and process all the different departments going through the applications process,” Hopkins said.
Toni Messina, director of public communications for Columbia, said the site will be a good way to monitor the effect of stimulus grants on the local economy. The site will be maintained by designated people within city government departments that are eligible to apply for money, such as Water and Light, Parks and Recreation, Public Works and the city manager's office. When changes are made to the city’s internal Intranet, its Internet Web site will automatically update as well.
“As the money changes hands — federal to state to local — I think people will be very interested to know how the influx of cash is affecting the local economy,” Messina said.
The Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council's Feb. 27 report to Gov. Jay Nixon estimated Missouri could receive as much as $6 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, plus tax benefits for individuals and businesses, according to the city Web site.
Such high-dollar awards create the need for more project accountability, which the Web site provides not only on a local and state level. Federal projects also will be listed soon.