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Officials prepare to spend stimulus money



Montana cities and counties have between now and the end of September 2010 to spend nearly $20 million in federal stimulus dollars to put people to work and shore up public infrastructure. The money comes from the $900 million allocated for Montana under t h e Ame r i c a n Re c ove r y a n d Reinvestment Act that was passed by Congress earlier this year. Under its plan for spending that money, the state Legislature set aside at least $100,000 for each county and $5,000 for each city in the state. The remainder will be divvied up using a formula that looks at population and total road miles in each area. Alec Hansen, director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns, said most of the money is marked for improving roads, and water and sewer systems. "A lot of this stuff is going to be the basic stuff these towns have been waiting to do for years, and they just never have had the money," Hansen said. Many local government officials have already identified the "shovelready" infrastructure projects they will fund and are preparing to accept bids for the work. Lewis and Clark County, for example, has let the bid for improvements on the plaza surrounding its new fairgrounds' building. "We've got dust and diesel flying down there," said Ron Alles, chief administrative officer for the county. Local governments were authorized to begin incurring costs on Projects after Gov. Brian Schweitzer approved the spending on May 14. They will get 90 percent of their money after signing contracts with the state Commerce Department, and the balance will follow once they have filed all of the reports required by the federal law. State Commerce Director Anthony J. Preite said he has approved an initial list of projects for cities and counties in the state. "It's going as smoothly as you could expect," Preite said. "We're moving right along." For smaller McCone County in northeastern Montana, the stimulus spending list includes replacing an old boiler in its courthouse with an energy-efficient furnace, while Yellowstone County will spend $84,000 to remodel part of the Billings courthouse. The city of Missoula plans to install more ramps for the handicapped and improve the North Higgins Avenue area. Billings will use its $1.65 million to move Alkali Creek so it does not wash away a road. And the consolidated city and county of Butte-Silver Bow is targeting its nearly $700,000 for street and road maintenance. As they spend their piece of the stimulus pie, officials must file electronic monthly reports with the state about how the money is being used and how many jobs were created.


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