NH lines up for slice of stimulus pie

Who wouldn’t accept a cash handout in these dire economic times?

Many New Hampshire cities and towns are no exception to those who would. They want a slice of the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package for projects as far ranging as a $10,000 culvert to a $20 million sewer disinfection facility.

The money hasn’t arrived yet. In fact, no one knows for certain how much funding New Hampshire will get, although experts set the amount at around $300 million.

But that didn’t stop about 100 municipalities from recently compiling a list of projects they’d like to see financed by Uncle Sam. Inevitably, the price tag of this wish list is higher than $300 million: a pie-in-the-sky $2.4 billion.

Nashua, for instance, wouldn’t mind grabbing a chunk of stimulus money. One of the city’s

requests is $12.4 million to fund the downtown connector portion of the Broad Street Parkway.

Aldermen last year approved the borrowing of up to $37 million for the city’s share of the project, but wouldn’t mind cutting costs with federal money.

Hollis put a $2.5 million library expansion project on the list even though, in this economy, officials didn’t dare dream of putting the work before voters this year at Town Meeting.

Nashua, Hollis and other towns answered a non-binding survey conducted by the N.H. Municipal Association. Communities will still have to apply with the state government when the money finally arrives.

Hopes run high with the stimulus package, but cities and towns shouldn’t expect miracles, said Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the nonpartisan think-tank Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

Some New Hampshire town and cities will get some money for roads; infrastructure projects, such as sewerage; and weatherization work, Arlinghaus said. But the federal till is now a lot smaller than what everyone had envisioned as little as a week ago, he said.

Arlinghaus has heard, for instance, that the state will get $132 million for highway work. That’s a lot smaller than the $230 million wish list the state Department of Transportation drew up last month when stimulus package talk had a lot more hypothetical money.

But even though New Hampshire towns won’t get as much as they hoped, it doesn’t hurt to ask for everything, Arlinghaus said.

And the recent NHMA list, as high as the price tag is, at least gives taxpayers an idea of what their local community wants funded through legislation intended to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The Obama administration wants projects to be “shovel ready” – in other words, they can start within 90 days to get workers working. But “shovel ready” has different definitions to others in government: from meaning the work should have at least passed the planning stage or the work should just about start once financed.

Expansion of Hollis’ library, for one, doesn’t seem to fit the shovel-ready status. But many town officials consider their projects to be ready to go with an infusion of cash, including a $20 million screening and disinfecting facility for Nashua’s water and sewer system.

“If you’re a community, you have to be ready for funding being available in one area but not another,” said Dean Spiliotes, of NHPoliticalCapital.com. “You want to make sure, though, that you have all your bases covered. If the money is designated, you want to have your stuff ready right away.”

Gov. John Lynch will have a gatekeeper overseeing the money once it arrives from Washington. Deputy Attorney General Orville Fitch will run an office that will manage and distribute funding, which will be forwarded to municipalities through existing loan and grant programs.

The pie from which the 50 states hope to be nourished will be served in many ways. According to the U.S. House of Representatives, 38 percent of the $787 billion will be in tax cuts, another 38 percent will be aid for state budgets, Medicare and education and the remaining 24 percent will be for ready-to-go spending projects.

Of that 24 percent, $29 billion is for road and bridge repair and construction, and $8.4 billion for public transit improvements and infrastructure investments.

The long-stalled Nashua-to-Manchester commuter rail line that would connect with Lowell, Mass., and Boston could finally run down the track with some of that $8.4 billion. Nashua is aiming for $300 million to construct the rail corridor and associated infrastructure.

Also on Nashua’s wish list: $10.4 million to replace five miles of sewer lines and $3.5 million for expanding the downtown riverfront walkway. Some of the 23 projects on Nashua’s list have city capital reserve accounts into which money is being placed each year.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, who forwarded Nashua’s list to the NHMA, said the city doesn’t want to ask for everything under the kitchen sink. Rather, Lozeau said the projects are practical and fall under categories emphasized by federal lawmakers: construction or revamping transportation, water and sewer, and municipal buildings.

Merrimack officials, on the other hand, figured why not shoot for the moon and see what money came their way, Town Manager Keith Hickey said. But the projects weren’t forwarded willy-nilly, either; they all appear in the town’s capital improvement plan, he said.

Among Merrimack’s requests are a new $2.2 million fire station off Continental Boulevard, $4.1 million to replace the Turkey Hill Road bridge (a proposed expense voters will review in April) and $10 million for a new library.

So while some towns will benefit with road and infrastructure work, others won’t, Arlinghaus said. And projects might really take a lower priority, Arlinghaus said, after Lynch announced Thursday he will freeze for two years two popular grants that give communities $74 million.

Lynch said he would instead dole out as much as $80 million a year through stimulus grants. But that money still won’t completely help towns facing busted budgets, Arlinghaus said.

“I don’t think any town will come out ahead of the game,” he said.

Stimulus package wish list
This chart shows infrastructure and road projects that five Greater Nashua municipalities would like funded by the federal stimulus package. It’s a wish list compiled by the New Hampshire Municipal Association and isn’t binding; municipalities still have to apply to the state when the funding arrives.
Town Hall renovation
Renovation into office building and meeting facility. 
Public Works garage
Assess renovation or replacement.
Hillside Drive project
Reconstruct half mile of town road.
Wright Road Bridge
Plans for replacement.
Wood Lane drainage
Funding to complete final phase.
Federal Hill Road culvert replacement
Environmental assessment, engineering plans.
Dow Road rebuild
Rebuild 1.89 miles of town road.
Hollis Library expansion
Develop construction plans.
Farley Building 
Complete structural engineering study.
Skate park
Construct a new skate park.
HUDSON (descriptions unavailable)
Pelham Road Dam, Second Brook
Paving and road repairs
Fire/police fiber-optic infrastructure 
Route 102 sidewalk construction 
from Evergreen to Towhee
Remediation of Burns Hill Landfill
Replace Abbott, Bond, Chatham sewer 
Upgrade Windham Road water booster 
Fire station
Highway Dept. garage
Turkey Hill Road Bridge
Chamberlain Bridge
Wastewater interceptor
Wastewater dewatering 
Equipment replacement.
Compost facility
Wastewater clarifier drives
Wastewater treatment plant
Public library
New facility.
Wastewater line extension
Conifer St. sewer
McGaw Bridge 
Amherst Road box culvert
Town-wide road and drainage
Perry Road extension and utility 
Construction of 1 mile to Heron Pond School
Nashua Street
Road, signals and pedestrian improvements.
Kaley Park Recreation Area
Phase 2 of ongoing park improvement.
Osgood Pond reclamation
Restoration of 15-acre pond.
Wastewater treatment facility
General improvements.
Water mains
Curtis well
General improvements.
Sewer collection system
Rehabilitate system.
Broad Street Parkway
Phase I of roadway, Nashua River bridge.
Sidewalk repair, reconstruction
As identified in City ’09 CIP.
Street repair, reconstruction
As identified in City ’09 CIP.
CSO screening, facility
Combined sewer outflow unit.
Biosolids Class A
Facility improvements and upgrade.
Sludge dewatering equipment
Facility improvements and upgrade.
Secondary clarifier rehabilitation
Facility improvements and upgrade.
Sewer replacement projects
Replace 5 miles of sewer.
Sewer Marshall/Bowers/Harbor 
Separate and replace 8,500 feet.
Sewer French Hill
Separate and replace pipes in a 37-acre area.
Sewer Lawndale Ave.
Separate and replace 14,100 feet.
Sewer Allds/Haines/Newbury St.
Separate and replace 8,810 feet.
Stormwater drainage
Drainage improvements to Northeastern Blvd., Sandborn Dr., Main Dunstable Rd.
Municipal Buildings
City Hall upgrade
HVAC, roof replacement, façade, etc.
Hunt Building
Major upgrade to building systems.
Nashua Public Library
Phased renovation and buildout.
14 Court St. Arts Center
Overhall of all building systems.
Nashua schools renovate
HVAC systems at Fairgrounds, Ledge and Charlotte Ave. schools.
Mulberry Street building
Replace Public Health and Community Resources building.
Parking garage rehab
Repairs of High Street and Elm Street garages.
Downtown Revitalization
Main Street sidewalk
Replace, repair and reset bricks.
Nashua Riverwalk
Expansion of walkway.
Bridge Street rail station
Construction of station, platform and drop-off.
Commuter rail –
Nashua to Manchester
Corridor and infrastructure improvements.
Source: New Hampshire Municipal Association