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Stimulus status check

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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

"I get a fair amount of calls from people asking, 'How can I get some of that stimulus money?'" said Executive Director of the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation Bill Warner.

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It seems the buzz word of the year so far is "stimulus." It's actually the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Obama signed into action Feb. 17.

Individuals, businesses, government entities, and private, public and non-profit institutions all seem to be scrambling to figure out where they fit into the stimulus package puzzle.

Answers don't come easily to the question of where, to whom and how funds will be distributed. Warner attended a meeting held in Pierce County two weeks ago Monday and was called by County Board Chairman Paul Barkla.

Warner's working to digest and categorize the information he's gathered about the stimulus package. He has a list of different programs that runs 70 pages and a 16-page matrix that summarizes the 70-page document.

Warner organized the information by program user and money source as well as what form it would take -- grant, loan, deduction or otherwise. His goal is to reference key words, like weatherization for example, when people call asking about recovery dollars. That way, he can quickly access information about, for example, a tax credit for homeowners and landlords of low-to-moderately priced housing who improve energy efficiency.

"There's a whole list of programs in the stimulus package," Warner said. "They're increasing the pool of eligible individuals."

In his observations, it seems most programs aren't new. Many stimulus dollars go toward enhancement of existing services using existing personnel. For example, the Community Development Block Grant program has been around a while and will get stimulus dollars.

CDBG funds programs like affordable housing, anti-poverty programs and infrastructure development. Unlike many federal grants, state or local government administers them.

He said entities at both the state and federal level will disburse funds and it pays to know which one will administer the program. He advises not just being ready to demonstrate a need for the money but specifically what it will be used to do.

"Everything at this point is rather speculative," said Warner.

He said the dollars could apply to business, technical colleges, energy conservation, individuals, many different forms of government, non-profit entities and the list goes on.

Warner's been using the state's website for his primary source of information. He's asked the 30+ federal agencies involved to add him to their mailing lists.

Warner said one online source leads to another and, "You can literally end up with dozens of helpful websites."

For businesses interested in stimulus dollars, the feds advise getting a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, then registering in the federal government's registry.

Warner's early research revealed that Pierce County gets counted out of some programs because it doesn't meet some programs' density requirements and because some money goes only to distressed counties.

He thinks most of the individual benefits coming from the stimulus will happen automatically through the IRS and suggests: "The bottom line on all of these is talk to your tax advisor."

The director said applicants should also consider the documentation and requirements attached to stimulus funding, including but not limited to conducting audits, documenting contractor opportunity, detailing the project, etc. The information also gets posted to the recovery website.

"If you get a project funded through the recovery act, you will have to provide and document all kinds of information," said Warner. "You're going to have to put everything out for everyone else to see."

He said some people may decide the money isn't worth meeting the many requirements.

Warner acknowledges people's healthy skepticism that, "...there won't be a lot out there for us," but he still encourages people to pursue any stimulus funding they think they can get.

More stimulus savvy

Executive Director of the St. Croix EDC, Bill Rubin, said he hasn't had a ton of calls, adding, "Nobody should be alarmed that no (local) projects got on the list...This was fundamentally the first wave of projects, with more to come."

Rubin said the big, multi-million-dollar projects seem to be getting the first wave of funds. He read in a Wisconsin newspaper that the highway from Milwaukee to the Illinois border would see "a lot of money" but said a couple of Hwy. 64 projects near New Richmond also have a chance.

He said the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission asked in fall 2008 for cities, towns and villages to submit their project ideas. As discussed in a recent City Council meeting, the projects submitted had to have the potential of being "shovel ready" by July 1.

Rubin said he's been talking often with Jerry Chasteen, a WCWRPC director for a seven-county service area. He said Chasteen is well aligned with the feds through the Economic Development Administration. His advice to people like Rubin: "Cast your nets widely."

Rubin said projects getting the money usually have a clear history and can proceed easily. He also refers to the state's website as well as the governor's and that of many agencies'.

Local list

Rubin usually attends the River Falls EDC meetings as a guest and said that group reviewed River Falls' list before it was submitted to the WCWRCP.

As reported in last week's Journal, River Falls submitted the idea of water/sewer/roadway in the upper portion of Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park. The council delayed the decision of whether to proceed with preliminary engineering of that site, partially because it learned that River Falls should not count on stimulus dollars (for the project).

According to River Falls Municipal Utilities General Manager Carl Gaulke, the list also included another well and booster pump station the city needs.

City Planner and Forester Tony Steiner said he applied this month for a $155,000 grant that would pay for replacement trees, an intern and all the city's "hazard and maintenance pruning" work.

He said River Falls' forestry budget only includes enough to remove dead trees. The stimulus money would go a long way in caring for the city's 5,000+ trees. Steiner had to act fast after requests for applications came through the DNR from the U.S. Forest Service.

"Normally you have several months to put your grant proposal together," he said.

In this case, he prepared it in less than a day. He heard that USFS received 94 requests for forestry dollars from Wisconsin's section of the United States.

Steiner says if River Falls happens to get the money, it will be the biggest and quickest grant process he's ever handled.

"I haven't heard back on anything," he said.

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