Millions of stimulus dollars at work in East Texas

By Sara Story - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It was designed to promote spending, create jobs, and end one of the toughest economic times our nation has ever faced. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or so-called Stimulus Plan, promised to pump nearly $800 billion into the economy.

Chris Vandergriff is a private contractor in East Texas and says the money is not living up to the stimulus hype. "The only thing it has helped us with is to keep our guys busy. If we are slow on a job and we get one of these [stimulus funded] jobs, it keeps 'em working, but there is no profit margin for companies," said Vandergriff.

However, East Texas officials say without the cash influx many much-needed upgrades wouldn't have happened.

Hundreds of millions of stimulus dollars have been handed out  in East Texas. According to a government website that tracks stimulus spending, Rains County received $1 million, the least amount of recovery money in our region. Gregg County was one of the top recipients at $58 million, and Smith County was awarded more than $88 million dollars.

"We awarded a contract for just over $4.6 million," said David Dickson, the Director of Airport and Transit Services for the City of Tyler. He says the airport put this money towards renovating a runway. "It was about 18 years old as far as the pavement surface, so it was in real need of being re-furbished if we were going to maintain that runway and keep it safe," said Dickson.

$37 million dollars is being used to fund a new section of Loop 49 Corridor in Tyler. It's "expected to be completed by 2012. Otherwise, we didn't even think we had the funding for it," said Barbara Holly, the Executive Director for the Tyler Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A huge chunk of recovery money went towards education. Tyler ISD was awarded $8 million dollars. "If you walked into our schools you would see some of the things as a result of stimulus money. You would see our students interacting with iPods, or you might see a secondary campus using calculators and a navigation system, the use of manipulatives and hands on materials, along with software," said Kim Tunnell, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Tyler ISD.

As millions of dollars were spent here in East Texas, KLTV News wanted to find out if the money is meeting it's goal of creating jobs. It "created about 46 jobs," said Tosha Bjork, the Director of Financial Services at TISD.

Vandergriff has worked on several stimulus projects across the country and says the Recovery Act may have kept workers busy, but at a cost to businesses. "They are pretty much 20 percent or greater under budgeted...with that money we have to install the equipment that they [the government] spec, perform all the work and all the headache that goes with it, and get out of there within that budget, and it is not happening. There is not enough money in these ARRA budgets to do that," said Vandergriff.

Vandergriff says it's a temporary fix that helped some, but not all.

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