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Forced to change course, Funkhouser and the City Council came up with what they called a "local stimulus plan." It resembled Schools First in that it called for a $90 million bond sale. But instead of sprucing up schools, the money would be spent on streets, sewers and other assets, including the zoo and Municipal Auditorium.
The plan earmarked $24 million for neighborhood projects, with each of the six council districts receiving $4 million. The council passed it, 11-2, on June 3. Fifth District Councilwoman Cindy Circo voted for it. So did the 5th District's Terry Riley, who touted the measure's job-creating powers. "We're dealing with the bottom line of putting people back to work," he said.
Ideas for neighborhood projects poured into City Hall. The city received 275 applications from people who live and work in the 5th District alone. Amy Lopez asked the city to put in a basketball court at U.S. Highway 40 and Phelps Road. Gwendolyn Colton complained about the difficulty she has using her wheelchair on the sidewalks near the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. Dolores Dick drew a neat map of the intersection of 87th Street and Hillcrest, which she believes needs a stoplight.
Residents in other council districts made similar requests, and the best ideas have been identified. In the 3rd District, several sidewalk projects are in the works, most costing less than $200,000. The 1st District will install streetlights, correct drainage issues and spend $700,000 on three parks.
But the requests from the 5th District are, for the moment, just sheets of paper in an accordion folder on the 18th floor of City Hall.
Yes, the 5th District will get its $4 million, but not until next year. Despite the obvious need on display in Jenkins' flooding driveway, his council representatives are refusing to spend the money now.
Circo defends her decision to withhold the money, telling The Pitch that the way the city is dispersing the $24 million is unfair. The requests were rushed through something called the Public Improvements Advisory Committee, she says, which makes recommendations to the City Council about which projects deserve funding. In a typical year, the advisory committee gets inundated with proposals. Then Funkhouser put on his Santa hat and asked for wish lists.
"All of it is frivolous," Circo tells me. "Because people thought there was more money, so they just threw in projects that would never come our way. So we have to weed out all those."
But the other council members managed to do the weeding in time for the fall construction season, sensing the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful without strangling themselves and their constituents in red tape. So more than caution seems to be guiding Circo. More likely, it's her distaste for the mayor, whose $24 million plan she calls "a campaign ploy."
Riley, Circo's 5th District colleague, says he's being true to his commitment to put people back to work. He notes that the bond sale included $33 million for street-resurfacing projects, which are happening. And the $4 million? "We're prioritizing with our neighborhood leaders," Riley says. They're just doing it really slowly.
As for Jenkins, his frustration with City Hall predates the "local stimulus" and feels anything but frivolous, especially because he's had to cut down an evergreen that died from water damage. The latest home remedy that he's considering is a short wall made of railroad ties and rebar on the Vermont side of his front lawn. If it's not up to code, so be it.