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Stimulus funds prompt brainstorming

Cattaraugus County's legislators began brainstorming in earnest during the Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night, when they learned the county has a chance to receive some of what County Administrator Jack Searles called a "very quick influx of money" from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed Tuesday by President Obama.

Searles said he learned from the New York State Association of Counties that the money will start flowing to the states within 15 days for projects fitting very tight 90-day, 180-day and two-year timelines from start to finish. The county could receive funding for projects that will train the unemployed, create jobs, and improve infrastructure, and the ownership of the project need not be strictly within the county's control.

But, Searles added, if the projects don't meet some strict federal aid guidelines and are not finished on time, the federal government will reallocate the funding to other states where the projects do qualify.

The county submitted a list of "shovel-ready" projects, mostly related to roads and bridges, in anticipation of funding awards, but the list will be whittled down because many projects will take too long. Some won't meet federal guidelines, and others will have to go through time-consuming procedures for permits.

Other sources of funding could ease Cattaraugus County's economic outlook in the coming year. As much as $350,000 could be available on a competitive basis as a result of Gov. David A. Paterson's push for restoration of state highway funding, which might lead to restoration of some road projects that have been shelved because of low availability of funding.

Another source, the federal medical assistance percentage, could boost the federal share of Medicaid costs from 50 to 58 percent for two years and bring $7.2 million to $8 million back to the county.

"You are not talking about chump change here," Searles said.

But he warned that while this will lower the local 25 percent share now charged to the county, the rededication of funding to other areas of the Department of Social Services could generate a surplus that would also affect portions of federal aid for the county.

Allegany and Cattaraugus counties also stand to receive $1.18 million in Workforce Investment funding for employment and training over the next two years, but if that money can't be put to use, it will be sent elsewhere.

Searles said he will prepare some county employment statistics for the lawmakers to use in devising plans to put this funding into projects that will train workers and lower the local unemployment rate.

He said Paterson has named a special board to manage the development of the infrastructure projects under the new federal law.

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