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Kirkland's Stimulus: Will federal help reach home?

Kirkland
Kirkland's chief liaison for stimulus money from Olympia and Washington, D.C, Intergovernmental Relations Manager Erin Leonhart
— image credit: Kendall Watson/Kirkland Reporter

Washington, D.C.'s so-called "stimulus package" funding is on its way - but how much will reach Kirkland?

Signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law on Feb. 17, President Barack Obama set in motion a $787 billion plan intended to spur the economy through tax-cuts for individuals and businesses and a number of investments in public services and infrastructure that create jobs. From that sum, about $357 billion is directed toward existing federal social and spending programs with the intent to create jobs in the short-term that will lead to economic development in the long-term.

That's money Kirkland City Manager David Ramsay said could reach several projects on a municipal Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) list, currently showing over 100 different infrastructure improvements. There is, however, one problem: The projects must be "shovel-ready", or ready to start work in 90 days - a timeline requirement Ramsay says he's never seen before in his 36-year career as a public servant. Unlike larger cities and agencies like Seattle or King County, all of Kirkland's CIP improvements are currently funded before they pay for architects and engineers to develop "working drawings" or face environmental review.

"Under normal circumstances, (shovel-ready is) not a prudent use of the taxpayer's money" he said. "(But) these are exceptional times."

Nonetheless, Intergovernmental Relations Manager Erin Leonhart has been working closely with the city to develop a list of several CIP projects that are expected to finish the environmental review process soon and might make the cut.

The cash is whipping up expectations, at least on the Internet, where a Web site called stimuluswatch.org is tracking a number of infrastructure projects submitted by the US Conference of Mayors. Kirkland isn't a member of that organization, but several of the city's CIP projects found their way onto the list with the help of Mayor Jim Lauinger. As of Wednesday, March 4 the project with the most support appeared to be a planned extension of N.E. 124th Street with 25 votes total votes cast.

For its part, the city has identified 15 construction projects with funding requests totaling nearly $27 million. While Leonhart acknowledged funding for all the projects was unlikely, the list projected up to 462 temporary and 6,645 permanent jobs could be created. Capital Projects Manager Ray Steiger is particularly bullish on two projects he said demonstrated a "critical" need: a "Safe Walks to School" sidewalk improvement project along 116th Avenue in the Highlands neighborhood (request: $675,000) and a seismic upgrade project for a 11.2 million gallon water reservoir near Mark Twain Park (request: $1.05 million).

"These two projects really align with the timing they're looking for," he said.

He estimated an 80 percent chance of getting money for the reservoir and a better than 50 percent chance for the sidewalks improvement, a CIP project the state agency actually requested for submission. Both projects will cost an estimated $4.1 million and are expected to create 50 to 60 jobs over a period of six months.

Kirkland can also qualify for a number of block grants through the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), though there's no guarantee they'll get any money. A new fire station might be in the mix. But as a city of 49,000, size appears to be a disadvantage. Cities of 50,000 and larger, so-called "Entitlement Cities", are guaranteed a portion of the funding. Only one program for energy efficiency has a lower threshold and guarantees the city a share of funding.

An alternative source of funding for some of the stimulus projects might arrive through the efforts of Jake Johnston, the city's lobbyist on Capitol Hill. He's pressing the city's case to fund local projects worth $5 million in an $410 billion omnibus spending bill, currently stuffed with 9,000 such requests from around the country. The 120th Street extension and sidewalks in Bridle Trails on 116th Ave. N.E. are also part of the city's lobbying efforts.

Perhaps the first sign of stimulus money most residents will see is what's headed straight back into their paychecks. "You won't get a check for the stimulus like last year," said Ciaran Clayton, a spokesperson from Sen. Maria Cantwell's office (D-Wash.), but taxpayers will see about $65 more in monthly paychecks, starting this April. Individuals making more than $75,000 or couples over $150,000 will see less.

Another large portion of money ($144 billion) is committed to maintaining health and education programs, such as Medicaid or unemployment payments, at the state level.

Overall, Leonhart said even after the money is distributed, towns and cities will still face budgetary pressures. But the stimulus money will help.

"With the dire situation that our state budget's in, it makes a lot of things really difficult. We're all sort of leaning on each other and trying to keep everything afloat," she said. "I'm really hoping that we can be successful in these things."

For more information about Kirkland's infrastructure projects proposed on the US Conference of Mayors list, visit Kirklandviews.com.

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