March 3, 2009
Tim Pratt -
STARKVILLE -- The word around Starkville is "stimulus."
On the same day State Auditor Stacey Pickering explained to the Starkville Rotary Club the watchdog role his office will play in the upcoming federal stimulus process, the Starkville infrastructure committee Monday took steps toward spending the city''s share of the funds.
Starkville is going to receive $785,000 in stimulus funds for infrastructure improvements, City Engineer Edward Kemp said. The infrastructure committee Monday agreed to make a recommendation to the city''s Board of Aldermen to hire engineering and planning firm Neel-Schaffer, which has an office in Columbus, to work on stimulus project designs.
The infrastructure committee already had established a list of 2.12 miles of roads it wants to improve with the $785,000. Portions of Jackson, Louisville, Montgomery, Greensboro and Gillespie streets, among others, will see milling, overlaying, striping and will be made handicapped-accessible.
The committee also agreed to recommend engineer Ed Springer for the proposed widening of Reed Road. The Reed Road improvements are separate from the stimulus projects.
Aldermen still ultimately must decide what firms to choose. The board meets today at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.
The city already budgeted nearly $1.1 million for infrastructure improvements this year, but recently passed a resolution to issue $3 million in bonds for additional work. Adding in the $785,000 in stimulus money, the city will have nearly $5 million this year for infrastructure improvements.
In other stimulus news, Pickering explained to the Starkville Rotary Club how his office will make sure municipalities around the state legally spend their shares of $2.5 billion in stimulus money.
The state is expecting an overall $5.12 billion economic impact from the $787 billion stimulus package signed two weeks ago by President Barack Obama. But the total includes about $2.5 billion in grants for services like education, public safety, Medicaid and tax credits for individuals, families and businesses.
The state will deliver the $2.5 billion through its agencies, but the auditor''s office will track the funds after distribution.
"Really, it boils down to the fact that we''re your watchdogs," Pickering told the room of Rotarians. "We''re there to stand up for you, the taxpayers of this great state, to make sure your dollars that you paid in taxes are spent wisely, efficiently, thoughtfully, and comply with every aspect of state law."
The auditor''s office either conducts audits, or contracts certified professional accountants, to audit every municipality and school district in the state, Pickering said.
After Hurricane Katrina, when the state received about $20 billion, state auditors made sure the money was being spent legally. Pickering''s office found less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Hurricane Katrina funds were being used illegally.
With the state only receiving about $2.5 billion this time around, Pickering said, "I think we can handle it."
Since Jan. 10, 2008, the state auditor''s office has recovered more than $1.8 million in taxpayer money fraudulently misspent or embezzled, he said.