Kitsap refines stimulus wish list

Kitsap County is due to receive $1.4 billion in federal stimulus money, and is positioning itself to compete for the distributed funds with programs in other parts of the state.

Administrative Services Director Shaun Gabriel, who has been coordinating the stimulus fund distribution process, said that in addition to the $1.4 billion there would most likely be an undetermined amount originating directly from the federal government.

He is not yet certain whether the money will be distributed through a grant or application format, but has prepared for either possibility with a variety of county programs.

“The race is on,” he said. “We need to be ready for any possibility here.”

For now, he said, Kitsap is ahead of the game. The county is proactively calling several agencies for information about the funds, and is hearing that the information is not yet available.

By continuing this process, Kitsap hopes to be among the first to hear specifics of the funds and the first to apply.

The available funds are in areas which Kitsap County did not anticipate. One area is resource conservation, where the county could get funding to retrofit existing buildings to be more energy efficient.

While several projects will now need to find other funding sources, it appears that summer youth jobs and broadband development are two areas poised for support.

When the possibility of a stimulus package was first discussed, even before Barack Obama assumed the presidency, local governments around the country began setting their priorities.

Kitsap followed this trend, drawing up a list of 63 projects that could qualify for federal funds.

After presenting this to the county commissioners in January, Gabriel whittled down the list to include 10 major projects.

The county was in the process of preparing applications for these areas when the stimulus list was released, and contained funding for a different set of programs.

Gabriel presented the list of subsidized projects to the county commissioners on Monday. He said the effort preparing the original list was not wasted, since it helped the county determine its priorities if and when funding becomes available.

One significant possibility falls under the Department of Information Services, with the construction of the wires that will create a more robust broadband network throughout the county.

The program, with an undetermined level, will be administered through the federal Department of Commerce, which is scheduled to be headed by former Washington Gov. Gary Locke.

Information Services Director Bud Harris said some of the money could be used to create “broadband kiosks” located throughout the county, to give people access to high-volume government services without having to travel to Port Orchard, or even Seattle.

Beyond this, a more widespread broadband capability itself makes the area more attractive to business, according to Harris.

The allocated money also includes $1 million to create summer jobs for youth in three counties — Kitsap, Pierce and Mason.

This is enough to create 235 jobs, 145 of which will be in Kitsap, according to Personnel Director Burt Furuta.

“We are working with the Department of Labor to see how long the kids can legally work and what they can do,” Furuta said. “There are a lot of productive projects for them, such as trail and stream restoration.”

Even if this is a federal subsidy the county wants to make sure the money is well spent.

“Before we start, I would like to know exactly how much is spent on the kids and how much is overhead,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer.

Gabriel said the county could begin to receive the stimulus money a few weeks after applying, or several months--although the youth job program is scheduled for this summer.

Gabriel said that Kitsap would be competing with other counties for funds, but would need to closely track all applications.

“We will need to prioritize our needs,” he said. “We don’t want to compete with ourselves.”

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