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Madison group builds regional stimulus list

Paul Snyder

A Madison-based economic development group is the latest to try to clear up stimulus-related confusion, but those waiting for the federal money say clarity will arrive only when cash is in hand.

“Everything about this is always a learning experience,” said Dallas Cecil, director of the Green County Highway Department. “It probably helps to see an overall list of what’s out there and needed in the region, but there’s still no satisfaction until those dollars come through.”

The Madison nonprofit group, Thrive, is trying to counter the frustration and increase the odds southwest Wisconsin projects receive a cut of federal stimulus dollars. The group is collaborating with the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to compile an inventory of projects from the region submitted to various state agencies for consideration.

The list, which Thrive Executive Vice President Rafael Carbonell said is already nearing 500 submissions, will go to the state Office of Recovery and Reinvestment to help the office track projects and determine to which agency they were submitted.

“This started with asking questions of a number of economic directors from southwestern Wisconsin counties to see if there was an opportunity to collaborate as a region for this money,” Carbonell said. “The one thing we’ve seen is that there are a lot of folks out there still trying to understand what the process is.”

Counties are still scrambling to figure out what’s available and what rules are attached, Cecil said, but Thrive’s efforts do not answer the one question on several minds.

“There’s still nobody in here saying who’s getting money and who’s not,” he said. “And really, it all boils down to who has the final say on that.”

Government agencies, from the state to municipal levels, are trying to determine the best way to get answers about how to obtain and spend the money. In addition to the state office, which was established to help interpret federal stipulations attached to the money and inform local governments of what is available, several state lawmakers called for the creation of spending oversight committees.

Even at local levels, counties are trying to interpret stimulus-related information. Topf Wells, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, said staff members from nine county departments are looking into how to obtain and spend stimulus money.

“We’re not going to lessen our efforts,” he said. “The more eyes you have watching and the more brains you have working together, the better.”

Mark Masters, chairman of the regional planning commission, said adding Thrive’s eyes to the process could benefit rural communities competing with municipalities like Milwaukee and Madison for stimulus dollars.

Cecil said it would be great if Thrive could attract the roughly $1 million needed for five bridge repair projects in Green County. But he said there are no guarantees.

“It’s been frustrating to this point,” he said.

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