Federal stimulus money has been trickling into the North Country over the past six months, but whether it's helped to boost the region's economy or has created anything more than seasonal jobs so far is debatable.
Gov. David Paterson says the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is "creating jobs now for North Country workers."
"The recession is far from over, but there is no question that the stimulus program has helped reduce the pain in the North Country and around New York," he said in a prepared statement.
(Map of stimulus-funded projects courtesy of the state Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet)
But it's difficult to gauge whether that's true, in part because the state officials who are supposed to manage stimulus are having a hard time tracking all the money, how it's been spent and how many jobs it has actually saved or created.
"There's all these different pots of money," said David Neustadt, spokesman for the state Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet, a group of state agency heads and Paterson advisors tasked with overseeing the distribution of stimulus funds. "Some of the money goes through state agencies; some of it goes directly to different institutions and organizations. We're working hard to keep track of it, but there's a lot involved."
An Enterprise review of North Country stimulus projects certified by the state found most of the money so far has gone to road, water and sewer infrastructure projects.
With a few exceptions, the funding has not been awarded to local companies hiring local people. It has largely gone to contractors in other parts of the state who've hired seasonal workers, often from where the companies are based.
For example, in April, the state authorized $1.12 million in funding for a road crack sealing project in Franklin, Clinton, Lewis and Jefferson counties. The contract went to Adirondack Tree Surgeons of Gansevoort, south of Glens Falls.
Kim Walker, the company's office manager, said they hired two to three additional employees in their area for the work, which started last month.
"They're probably going to be seasonal until the project's done," she said.
Funding for some stimulus projects in the region was awarded so late that the work has been pushed back to the spring, delaying any economic benefits that may come from road and infrastructure work.
That was the case with a $2.16 million contract awarded to Tuscarora Construction Co., based in Pulaski, for repairs to 100 bridges around the region. It was the same for a $3.6 million contract to clean and repaint nine state highway bridges in Franklin, Clinton and St. Lawrence counties, awarded to Erie Painting and Maintenance in Cheektowaga.
There have been a few stimulus contracts given to companies based in the North Country that are hiring local workers. Luck Brothers of Plattsburgh has been working on a $3.1 million upgrade to the water system in Keene Valley and was also awarded $2.1 million for replacement of a bridge over the Saranac River in the town of Black Brook.
But the stimulus investment in the North Country so far does not appear to have led to the creation of many permanent jobs, which state Sen. Betty Little says should be the goal.
"There are highway contracts out there, and people are putting in water lines, too," Little said, "but as far as jobs that are going to last longer than the project, I don't see it. And I think that's the best use of stimulus funding."
Michael Flick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation's Watertown-based Region 7, argued that stimulus-funded road and bridge projects have improved the North Country economy, albeit indirectly.
He said many contractors are using locally produced materials like concrete and stone, and that local subcontractors are working on some of the bigger jobs.
"I think people just want to see job creation stand right up and hit you in the face," Flick said. "For the areas that are more remote or more rural, it's an ancillary impact, but it's a positive impact."
Flick also said the use of stimulus funds on road and bridge projects has freed up money DOT can use on other jobs.
"It's a good thing for us, it's a good thing for the infrastructure, and in many ways it will benefit the traveling public," he said.
State officials also say areas like the North Country have actually received more transportation stimulus funding per capita than other parts of New York. That's because it was targeted for "economically distressed" areas upstate, including Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, which have higher unemployment and lower per-capita wages. In upstate areas, stimulus highway spending is $55 per person, compared to $39 per person in the rest of the state, according to data provided by Neustadt.
Stimulus dollars have also funded $53 million worth of clean water, drinking water and infrastructure projects in the North Country. State officials also said stimulus money has been used to extend unemployment payments and increase food stamps.
U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy, a first-term Democrat from Glens Falls said one area where stimulus funding has had a more lasting effect on the region's economy is education - helping fund local schools.
"The North Country has received more than $7 million in education funding, which is helping to save jobs and hold the line on property taxes," he wrote in an e-mail. "Without these funds we'd be forced to make a decision between firing local teachers and raising taxes to offset our already bloated budgets."
The Saranac Lake Central School District was able to save two positions using the $786,000 in stimulus money it received, the majority of which was spent on a new reading series. But school officials have been cautious about spending the money on additional personnel because the one-time infusion of funds won't be there next year.
"We didn't buy anything we would have to fund after two years from now, except for those two positions," said district Business Manager Mike Kilroy. "Everything else was one-shot deals."
One of the biggest winners of stimulus funding in the area so far is Saranac Lake's Trudeau Institute, which has collected $8.3 million to help fund its laboratory research into diseases, especially flu, tuberculosis and other lung ailments. The funding isn't being used to create new jobs, but Trudeau spokesman Brian Turner said it will support the salaries of current employees and research supplies.
While stimulus funding might not be creating hundreds of new jobs in the region, Murphy said it is laying the foundation for future job growth. His office estimated more than $89 million in stimulus funding has been spent in the region on road projects, water and sewer infrastructure, education and health care funding.
"As we work to bring these critical dollars to our region, the important thing to remember is that we cannot create jobs for a 21st century economy with an infrastructure from the 19th century," Murphy said. "All of these projects are working towards making the North Country more viable for business development and job creation."
Some politicians were a little more hesitant to say whether stimulus funding is helping to improve the region's economy.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that it is going to be working," said state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, a Republican from Peru. "I've got to believe we're going to see some of that money come to the North Country. I don't want to be negative and think we're not going to get it because I believe we will."
What's been approved?
The actual number of stimulus projects that have been approved and funded in the North Country is difficult to determine because the information can't be found in one location. The state's list of certified projects, available online at www.recovery.ny.gov, doesn't include education funding, Medicaid reimbursements to counties and a myriad of other projects that have already been announced.
The federal government's economic recovery Web site, www.recovery.gov, doesn't include the state's certified projects. Instead, it only lists funding for projects and programs funded directly through federal contracts, like student loans from the Department of Education and funding for area housing authorities from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Neustadt was working to provide the Enterprise with a comprehensive list of all the stimulus funding awarded in the North Country to date, but an accurate list wasn't available soon enough to be included in this report.
Recipients of stimulus funding were required to report back to the state on the use of the monies by Oct. 10. That information is expected to become public by the end of the month, if not sooner.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.
THE NORTH COUNTRY STIMULUS LIST (as far as we can tell)
The following projects have been awarded stimulus funding in Essex and Franklin counties. The list, compiled by the Enterprise, includes what was identified on the state's most current list of certified projects, projects funded directly by federal agencies and other projects that have been announced publicly.
This list should not be considered complete.
Road projects (Essex or Franklin):
Resurfacing Route 374 from Chateaugay to Brainardsville, $517,000
Resurfacing Route 3 from St. Lawrence County line to Tupper Lake, $288,000
Resurfacing Route 11 from Malone to Chateaugay, $1.39 million
Resurface part of Route 30 from Malone to Constable, $140,000
Replace the Willow Street Bridge in Malone, $1.36 million
Replace the Haselton Road bridge in Wilmington, $1.9 million
Rehabilitate Blue Ridge Road between Newcomb and I-87, $4.6 million
Multi-county road projects:
Clean and repaint nine highway bridges (includes Franklin), $3.6 million
Replace intersection signal systems (includes Franklin), $840,000
Crack-sealing on highways (includes Franklin), $1.12 million
Repair bridges (includes Franklin), $2.16 million
Replace guiderail (includes Franklin) $1.3 million
Water and sewer projects:
Saranac Lake water meters, $1 million
Keene water project, $3.1 million
Newcomb sewer project, $1.8 million
Essex sewer project, $5.1 million
Schroon sewer project, $4.4 million
Schroon waste disposal grant, $300,000
Ticonderoga sewer project, $4.9 million
Chesterfield water project, $5.11 million
Trudeau Institute, $8.3 million
Saranac Lake Central School District, $786,161
Lake Placid Central School District, $282,619
Tupper Lake Central School District, $640,146
Medicaid offset, Franklin County, $2.6 million
New buses for Franklin County, $380,000
Franklin County Office for the Aging, $42,629
Medicaid offset, Essex County, $2.2 million
New buses for Essex County, $156,000
Essex County Sheriff's Department, $188,000
ComLinks backpack survival program, $361,000
Hudson Headwaters Health Network, $2.2 million
Ticonderoga train trestle conversion, $326,00
Harrietstown Housing Authority, $213,459
Tupper Lake Housing Authority, $185,199
Malone Housing Authority $336,302
North Country Community College (grants to students), $807,801
Paul Smith's College, (grants to students) $430,548
Branch Commercial Development, Malone, $4.65 million loan
The Dressing Room, Malone, $30,000 loan
Constable Volunteer Firemen, $138,530
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, $1.1 million
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, $972,902
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, $157,000
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, $38,590
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, $16,610
Akwesasne Indian Housing Authority, $3 million
Akwesasne Indian Housing Authority, $245,670
Town of St. Armand, wastewater planning grant, $5,000
Town of Essex, water planning grant, $6,250
Adirondack Community Action Programs, Elizabethtown, $74,638
Associated Community Action of the North Country, $11,960
Champlain Valley Specialty, Keeseville, $800,000 loan
Lord Howe Estate, Ticonderoga, $274,000
A.T. Morette Electric, Ticonderoga, $25,000 loan
-Compiled by Chris Knight