In any other year, the sudden unveiling of $202 million in possible new spending during tight financial times would be unthinkable in Hennepin County. ¶ This isn't any other year. ¶ Prepping for what's expected to be a rush to the public trough to capture some of the dollars in the just-signed $787 billion federal stimulus package, Hennepin County commissioners Tuesday looked over a list of projects that could compete for federal funding under the new law. They included everything from rehabbing historic buildings at Fort Snelling to making libraries more energy efficient. ¶ While much is still uncertain -- including who will award funding in certain areas and how that money will be allocated -- there is some urgency in setting priorities, because thousands of cities and counties across the country will be competing for the funds. ¶ "This is still a very fluid situation," said Phil Eckhert, county director of housing, community works and transit, who worked on assembling priorities. "How these things will be decided is not totally understood... it will have to be tracked in the next couple weeks to months."
The list of 43 possible projects was chosen by the county's top managers from 109 proposals that came from 14 county departments. Projects were picked according to guidelines set by commissioners, who wanted big projects that create jobs, don't have continuing costs once they're completed and fit with existing plans and funding priorities. Officials say they would create 1,247 jobs and preserve another 625 positions.
At $102 million, more than half of the county's preliminary wish list is for roads and other transportation projects. The biggest single request would be $66.5 million for replacement of the Lowry Avenue bridge in Minneapolis. Another $32 million would go for such basic infrastructure needs as pavement overlays on roads and bridge deck overlays.
About $4.6 million would go to improvements around the new Twins ballpark, including linking the Cedar Lake bike trail to light-rail lines and improving pedestrian and bike areas near the stadium.
Almost $31 million would go to improve access to Hennepin County Medical Center's primary care services, which are overwhelmed with patients. The existing Family Medical Center would be replaced with a 60,000-square-foot facility, and three satellite clinics would be expanded.
Two deteriorating buildings at Fort Snelling, the Officer's Quarters and the Post Headquarters Building, would be renovated for offices and used as demonstration sites to show how fort buildings could be rehabbed and reused.
Almost $49 million would go to 12 energy-efficiency projects, including installing a wind turbine at the county's Public Works Facility in Medina. Two libraries under construction in Plymouth and Maple Grove would get ground-source heating and green roofs. Seventy-seven other county buildings, including libraries, would get efficient heating and air-conditioning systems.
Echoes of the WPA
Parts of the project list summon up images of the 1930s, when millions of people were put to work improving public roads and buildings through the federal Works Progress Administration. One county project, a $2.5 million effort to repair and replant eroded stream banks, proposes creating 50 new jobs for young adults and at-risk youth through the Minnesota Conservation Corps and the Tree Trust. Another $500,000 would be used to maintain and restore prairies, wetlands and woodlands that are already protected by conservation easements. And $600,000 would go to create two new work crews of juvenile and adult offenders to eliminate buckthorn, plant trees, restore habitat and maintain trail systems in parks and cities.
Initiatives in criminal justice include technology improvements to hasten charging and prosecution of criminal suspects, adding prosecutors in targeted areas like gang violence and financial crimes, and funding programs that improve cooperation between law enforcement units.
Eckhert told the board that the county can probably expect $7 million to $10 million in funding through existing federal formulas. But how other monies will be awarded is still unclear. County officials are working with congressional representatives to try to get a leg up.
No vote was taken Tuesday. Board Chairman Mike Opat said commissioners might want to vote on some priorities at next week's meeting. Several commissioners indicated they may want to add or remove projects from the list.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380