By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6
PERKINS, OK -- Meant to jumpstart our economy, the $787 billion stimulus package is one of the most expensive pieces of legislation ever signed into law. The News On 6 reported on Wednesday about a million dollar stimulus project in Perkins and how some politicians are highlighting it as an example of wasteful spending.
Perkins uses a lagoon to get rid of sewage. The system is outdated and inefficient even for a town of 2,000 people. They're building a new, mechanical treatment plant. The estimated cost was $5 million. The city increased sewage taxes by 60% to cover the expense.
With the plans laid out, Perkins City Manager Pete Seikel applied for federal stimulus money.
"I answer to the public out here and its kinda hard for me to sit here and say, I'm going to pass up federal dollars," said Pete Seikel.
He received $1.5 million in grants. Then, he bid the project. Suddenly the cost skyrocketed to $7 million. That's because under stimulus rules, all steel products must be American made.
"There's quite a bit of reinforcement steel, there's quite a bit of valving and pumps, there's piping in it, and a lot of that has steel components," said Pete Seikel.
Seikel must also pay prevailing wages. He says everyone from plumbers to engineers will earn a union salary. But, the $1.5 million grant isn't enough to cover the $2 million in increased costs. That means the City of Perkins has to pay the difference.
It is a fact retired homeowner Burt Coate doesn't like to hear.
"It was $18 a month a few months ago. Then it went up to $40. Now it's up to $80," said Burt Coate of Perkins. "I don't buy groceries this month. I'm on social security."
Seikel says he'll put more than 100 Oklahomans to work in Perkins on a construction project that will last 12 months. He says that's the point of the stimulus.
"It is to stimulate the economy, put some people back to work, inject some cash into the system," said Pete Seikel.
He also says the plant will now have longer-lasting, higher-quality parts, made domestically.
"With the stimulus money, I thought that was going to pay for it. I don't understand why we have to pay for it, too," said Robert Allensworth of Perkins.
Seikel says sewage taxes will not go up again. But, many residents are wondering, when it comes to the sewage project, if the stimulus money is the biggest waste, of all.
Construction on the new sewage plant will begin by the end of the month.