By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6
PERKINS, OK -- Does getting millions of dollars in stimulus money really make a difference in Oklahoma? One town in the middle of a stimulus controversy says not much. And, one multi-million dollar project in Perkins is exposing some of the drawbacks of accepting the money.
It's one of the most basic and important duties of local government, getting rid of sewage. Perkins was set to build a new multi-million dollar treatment plant, but when stimulus money came into the picture, it touched off a debate that's gone all the way to Capitol Hill.
Perkins' treatment plant was outdated and inefficient. They planned to build a $5 million new one. To pay back the loan, they increased utility taxes by 60% this year.
"We were shovel ready. The engineering was done. We were ready or getting ready to advertise for bids," said Perkins City Engineer Pete Seikel.
Before bidding the project, Pete Seikel applied for, and received, $1.5 million in free stimulus money. That money has not, and will not, affect the $5 million loan. Meaning even though it's a stimulus project, Perkins residents are still stuck with increased sewage bills.
"I thought 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.
Plus, stimulus money has specific instructions. All steel, and steel-derived products, must be made in the USA. And, the city must pay all laborers union wages. So now, the estimated cost of the project went up $2 million.
"I answer to the public out here. And, it's kinda hard for me to sit here and say, I'm going to pass up federal dollars," said Perkins City Engineer Pete Seikel.
Seikel got $1.5 million in stimulus money, but he says Washington rules have driven up the projected cost beyond that. The city's in the hole for the $400,000 difference. But, Seikel says he's able to put hundreds of people to work immediately. He says that's the point of the stimulus.
"It is to stimulate the economy, to (get) people back to work, inject some cash into the system," said Pete Seikel. But, even Seikel says, at best, getting the stimulus money is a wash.
Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn specifically references the Perkins project as an example of the problems with the stimulus program.