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Our View: Officials should bring more scrutiny to the table when requesting pieces of the federal stimulus pie

Seven-hundred eighty-seven billion dollars. To borrow a phrase made famous about 20 years ago by comedian Chris Rock, "Good Lord, that's a lot of money!"

It's been just over four months since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law.

Since then city, county and state governments along with businesses across the country have been lining up to receive their slice of federal stimulus funding pie.

Local governments here in the east metro Twin Cities have been no exception.

In just the last few months, the Washington County Board of Commissioners have voted to authorize several of its departments to pursue federal stimulus dollars to help pay for projects and programs.

It is hoped the fed funds will accomplish the following: energy efficiency improvements to county facilities, hiring of additional police officers, job training programs and rehabilitation of blighted and foreclosed homes.

In late January, the Woodbury City Council voted to approve a resolution that would allow city staff to apply for federal economic stimulus funding if "opportunities became available."

Since then, the city has pursued federal stimulus funding to help pay for two additional police officer positions, road improvements projects and a possible energy efficiency upgrade at Bielenberg Sports Center.

There is no doubt that the aforementioned funding will help these local bodies of government perform some of their core services to residents, but the question we ask is, "At what cost?"

We believe these elected officials should be asking the same question.

You are asking for this money but how, in the short term and in the long run, will our nation pay for this $787 billion "reinvestment" strategy?

Yes, there are tangible dollars being counted. Here are several examples:

The county will receive $30,000 in federal stimulus dollars to make energy efficient lighting improvements to the county jail. It's expected to get nearly $5 million federal stimulus dollars to complete an overpass project on County Road 83 in Forest Lake.

The city of Woodbury will likely receive about $500,000 to subsidize the installation of geothermal heating and cooling systems at the Bielenberg Sports Center.

Yes, we realize those are only slivers of the $787 billion federal stimulus pie being doled out across America.

We don't question the quality of the projects and programs for which Washington County and the city of Woodbury are receiving federal stimulus dollars.

And we don't question the intentions behind the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which proponents say was created to help stimulate the economy during a recession.

But we do question lack of public discussion involved in this process on the local, receiving level.

A lot of legal tender is being printed to cover this unprecedented federal public spending program.

The old adage says, "Money doesn't grow on trees." It has to come from somewhere and somebody.

The challenge we raise to the Washington County Board and Woodbury City Council, who have over the years rightfully established distinguished track records of fiscal responsibility, is to simply discuss this issue in the public forum and to bring the same scrutiny to the table in evaluating these requests for federal stimulus funding that they bring with them during the respective annual budget processes.

This is no time for complacency. Because, although by taking these federal stimulus dollars, you may help stimulate the economy in the short term and help pay for needed projects, programs and personnel additions, these dollars will ultimately cost the taxpayers.

Just because it's not coming directly and immediately from your constituents' pockets does not mean it won't cost all of us in the long run.

Those interested in learning more about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and tracking federal stimulus spending can go to www.recovery.org, a privately-run website that tracks American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending by federal, state and local government agencies.

The state of Minnesota also has a website to help residents track federal stimulus funding it is receiving at www.mmb.state.mn.us/stimulus

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