Viewpoint: County must exercise care, caution when federal stimulus funding comes knockingOur county leadership must exercise care and caution when considering federal monies under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
By: Marisa Novak, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Our county leadership must exercise care and caution when considering federal monies under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The stimulus money is highly complicated and will eventually cost us revenue, as well as commit our local governments to higher budgets. We must remember that this money is not free; in fact, it limits our freedom to choose how best to serve our communities based on local priorities. In accepting these funds our local needs are being skewed by a pressing federal timeline, and outside influences, instead of by demonstrated needs of local folks.
As a commissioner on the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board I advocate for patient deliberation over the grant agreements to ensure that we don’t take unnecessary risks, especially when facing these federally funded commitments and our future liability under the forced 15 or 30 year compliances. But the federal government subverts careful debate by dictating aggressive deadlines for spending the money. Case in point, our board passed the Neighborhood Stabilization Program phase two before even knowing the impact of phase one; everything is rushed.
The Neighborhood Stabilization Program is flawed. Similar programs failed in the 1970s and 1990s. Government bought foreclosed homes, renovated them, and defined qualified owners to stimulate neighborhoods by avoiding the impact of vacancies or rentals in targeted areas. Yet, after the taxpayer financed this expensive foreclosure acquisition plan they found that the houses went back into foreclosure again in poor condition.
There was a huge loss of local revenue and private investment, while the unemployment skyrocketed. Is anyone rushing to buy a business or home in Detroit? Detroit and other cities tried NSP under the encouragement of HUD, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. This program, among other government intrusions, created its present day economic nightmare. Today, our federal tax money is being spent bulldozing their earlier mistakes. Is this our future in Washington County? Do we really want increased urbanization forced upon us by outside influences so that we can become dependent on large government at the federal or state level? Absolutely not!
We can do two things that naturally encourage neighborhood stabilization. First, we focus on our real needs in Washington County which is offering affordable housing to the sick and seniors. We do this by keeping taxes low, helping them stay independent; and, we offer those who truly struggle community housing.
When these folks enter subsidized housing, a natural stabilization in older neighborhoods occurs like it did before federal and state subsidies for home acquisition. Younger families rent or buy in these lower cost areas while saving for a newer place. They renovate with pride and learn how to care for a home as their own investment. Even better, they live in a diverse neighborhood, and a natural community is built.
Second, the HRA, along with local officials, should preserve older communities by investing dollars in redevelopment –updating parks, schools, streets, utilities and improving commercial property investment nearby keeping the neighborhood appealing: that’s domestic stimulus and community rejuvenation. Most of us lived in these neighborhoods for years or still do, and we understand the worth of community pride in homeownership through personal investment. Besides, people tend to be better neighbors if it is by choice, not by government acquisition.
So, although NSP is being implemented slowly in Washington County under a well intentioned strategic plan, we must be vigilant. I appeal to our local government staff and officials who have been fiscally responsible prior to this stimulus money: don’t take any more unnecessary risks by accepting this money and its aggressive mandates.
Washington County is beautiful because of your responsible decision making; and, if our federal government refuses to be responsible with our tax money, while the state government continues to take federal bailouts due to their own mismanagement, the local government must be our protector. We must see beyond the easy money and into our looming future of devastating debt.
Let’s continue to scrutinize the return on our investment. Let’s be cognizant of how federal mandates will affect us long term: The details of our grant agreements may negate any short term advantages. Let’s determine if we have an exit plan after the stimulus money is gone.
Will we fire the new government employees hired with this stimulus money or discontinue these programs due to local budget constraints, or are hometown politicians going to force citizens to fund these positions and programs the federal government has created with higher local taxes? Will the federal mandates allow us to make such decisions or are we promised to fund both after the federal money disappears? These are valid concerns with accepting the stimulus money. A better course would be the traditional federal block grants that have little regulation and much more promise.
Lastly, if we study other governments who engaged in these federal programs, we must acknowledge the failure rate of their weighty ventures. And, we must realize that this money entitles government to get involved where they shouldn’t be-disrupting the private real-estate sector and offering programs that are not sustainable. Let’s not set our citizens, cities and county up for failure. Let’s say no to easy federal money and take control of our own destiny as a community.
Marisa Novak is a member of Washington County’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board and a Woodbury resident.