A Few Communities Say ‘No Thanks’ to Stimulus

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Governors have made headlines for refusing at least some of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, but at the local level, cash-strapped cities and counties have been less vocal about turning down money.

But not always.

One of the fastest-growing counties in Ohio rejected the money, joining a scattered group of U.S. communities that say certain funds aren’t needed.

Commissioners in Warren County, a staunchly Republican county northeast of Cincinnati, refused to take $373,400 in stimulus money to buy three new transit buses and make other improvements to the fleet, citing philosophical objections to the spending.

Scott Varner, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, which allocated the stimulus money, said the county’s decision was the only rejection in the state that he was aware of.

Warren County also wants to return $1.8 million in stimulus funding to replace windows and roofs on government buildings, making them more energy-efficient.

“We’re in the minority; I know that,” said Commissioner C. Michael Kilburn. “If we need things, we’ll write the check and pay for it.”

Governors of Alaska and four southern states — South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — refused at least some of Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package, intended to help jump-start the U.S. economy. Cities have generally been more amenable to taking the money.

But in North Platte, Neb., a housing agency this month rejected $600,000 in stimulus funds, saying the money wasn’t needed. The money would have been spent on landscaping and fixing driveways and sidewalks.

The town board in Mount Desert, Maine, turned down a request by Police Chief James Willis to seek $175,000 in stimulus money, which would have paid the salary of an additional officer for three years. The board objected to being on the hook after stimulus funding ran out.

“We’ll just go the way the board wants to go,” said Willis, who presented the plan in early April. The small town has six full-time officers, and Willis said an extra officer would have helped eliminate the need for part-time staff.

Decisions to reject funding can be as important as how to spend it, said Catherine Turcer of the government watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action.

“Despite the fact that the stimulus seems enormous, not everyone can get a piece of the pie,” she said. “All government officials need to think about what they really need.”

One of the reasons that Warren County, home to Kings Island amusement park and other tourist attractions, is financially strong is because government spending was kept to a minimum, said Commissioner David Young.

The county, whose population has soared 28 percent this decade to more than 204,000, didn’t need new buses, so the stimulus money wasn’t needed, either, he said.

The state Transportation Department gave out $29.8 million to rural transit agencies around Ohio — money that will pay for new buses, dispatching equipment and in some cases new buildings.

Young said he doesn’t blame counties that accepted the money.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said. “However, I do blame politicians in Washington who are playing up to their constituencies by throwing money out like candy.”

Commissioners did allow the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to apply for $237,400 in stimulus money over three years. If granted by the U.S. Justice Department, it will pay for a resource officer at Kings High School in Mason.

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