By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6
PERKINS, OK -- It topped his list of the 100 most wasteful stimulus projects. On Tuesday night, Senator Tom Coburn answered to scores of residents about a federally funded, multi-million dollar water treatment plant.
There were more than 100 residents on both sides of the issue, tackling some pretty hard questions with the senator. The Perkins project has become a lightning rod of controversy over what the stimulus means, good and bad, for small towns across the country.
Perkins residents packed the room to hear stimulus watchdog, Senator Tom Coburn, discuss the issue on everyone's mind.
"Our sewer system is majorly outdated. It hasn't been updated since, I don't think, the 1960s," said Grant Demuth of Perkins.
The city's lagoon is being transformed into a new mechanical plant. City leaders took out a long loan just to help find the funds. And then, they applied for stimulus money.
"With the stimulus comes all these strings that's gonna make any project more expensive," said Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.
There were two strings attached to the Perkins' project. One, that steel must be American made which costs more. And, all laborers have to be paid prevailing wages as set down by Uncle Sam. Coburn says all Oklahomans, not just Perkins residents, are being penalized by that.
"If competitive labor rates here are the same as they are nationally, great. But if they're not, why can't we in Oklahoma benefit from our lower cost of living and the lower cost of labor?" said Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.
Even after receiving after receiving $1.5 million in stimulus grants, the projected building cost went up by $500,000.
"The fact is we're borrowing the money. And even though we're borrowing the money, it's going to be more expensive whether it's $10 or $500,000," said Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.
Many residents say that doesn't make any sense.
"I'm not for any stimulus. I think that any time the federal government gets involved locally, the more problems we're going to have," said Chuck McKnight of Perkins.
Others point out the cost increase doesn't have to be paid back for decades.
"It's a catch 22 I think because we needed this treatment plant and we couldn't find the funds. And now, we have the funds, but there are strings attached. It's a necessary evil I think," said Grant Demuth of Perkins.
A necessary evil Demuth says, to get a project four decades in the making finally off the ground.
The Perkins city manager says he has no regrets about accepting federal dollars because at a minimum, it's injected new money into his project. He says they're already installing electric wires where the new plant will go, but the actually building process will begin later this summer.