The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

August 18, 2009

Athens, Limestone seeing benefits of stimulus funds

By Jean Cole

Athens will spend its share of federal economic-stimulus money to extend a city walking trail.

Limestone County will spend its share by improving a bridge, helping create an events center, improving energy efficiency in county buildings, linking county computers via fiber-optic cable and buying video equipment for use by law-enforcement officials.

The money for both governments comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The act, approved by Congress in February, set aside $787 billion to stimulate the economy in the wake of the recent downturn. It includes federal tax cuts, expansion of unemployment benefits and other social-welfare provisions along with domestic spending on education, health care and infrastructure — such as paving, and on energy savings. Alabama is set to receive about $3.31 million of the total.

Athens recently received $384,725 to extend the walking trail along Forrest Street, according to Public Works Director James Rich, who applied for the money.

The trail will connect the U.S. 31 walking trail at Forrest Street to the Swan Creek Trail and will parallel Forrest to the intersection of Lindsay Lane, then go south along Lindsay to Eastside Junction, where Publix and other businesses are located.

Work on the nearly two-mile concrete, asphalt and gravel trail may begin after the first of the year, Rich said.

“The plans were submitted to the DOT in June, and we are waiting for the DOT to provide us with the plan review and, hopefully, start the bidding process in October, unless we need right of way,” he said.

To get the grant money, the city has to pay a 20 percent match or about $76,945.

Limestone County Commission Chairman David Seibert said he is not sure how much the county will receive until it receives the checks, however, he does have some estimates:

• $300,000 in road money to improve a county bridge;

• $250,000 to build a new senior center at Tanner;

• $100,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to create a faster and more reliable connection between telephones and computers between county buildings; this improvement also allows judges to arraign jail prisoners via videoconference, which saves time and prevents having to transport prisoners to the courthouse.

Within the next year to 18 months, the videoconference equipment will be used for industrial recruitment, said Revenue Enhancement Director Rodney Jackson who worked with Grant Coordinator Sonya Anthony to obtain the stimulus money.

• $100,000 for heating, cooling and plumbing for the event center to be constructed just west of the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives.

That work should be under way within 90 days, Jackson said.

• $59,400 from a juvenile accountability grant to pay for ankle bracelets with global positioning units that are used to monitor some offenders and for outpatient drug program;

• $17,884 in stimulus money in the form of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program through the Justice Department for video equipment, which county commissioners accepted Monday.

Jackson said the county would have been eligible for the Justice Department grant and other grants in previous years but this year it was paid with stimulus funds.

• Money for the Rails-to-Trails project.

The wish lists of city and county officials were much larger than the money supply.

“You could call it our hope list since Barack Obama campaigned on hope,” Rich said.

“We put in for 20 or more projects through our local delegation and the congressional delegation.”

Jackson said the cooperation among judges, county officials and law-enforcement officials in Limestone makes it easier to obtain grants and stimulus funds.

Much of the federal money for projects was spent on paving existing roadways because those projects do not require engineering and environmental approvals, which take time.

City and county residents did benefit from stimulus money the state received because it was spent to improve U.S. 31.