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Date of Issue: February 10, 2010

Stimulus money failed to stimulate

If the intent of the recent influx of stimulus money into Anna Maria Island transportation projects was to create jobs on the Island and in the Manatee area, the effort failed.

One job was created with the more than $1.2 million the federal government spent for projects on the Island from October 2009 to February 2010 under the U.S. American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and that worker came from Georgia.

Carlos Valdez of the Frankie Valdez Company of Georgia said the company hired one additional worker for its Island jobs, but the added staff member was not an Island resident.

 The company did sidewalk and landscaping in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach under the ARRA and received more than $140,000 for its efforts.

Superior Asphalt of Sarasota also did several ARRA-funded jobs on the Island in late 2009, but a company spokesperson said the work from those projects did not warrant additional staff.

“All the projects did was keep our current help working so they could get a paycheck. We didn’t hire any new help,” the spokesperson said.

When the Florida Department of Transportation announced that stimulus money was available for “shovel-ready” projects on Anna Maria Island, a government spokesperson said that for every $1 billion spent on projects nationwide, 28,000 new jobs would be created.

Using that formula, the $1.2 million spent on Anna Maria Island under the ARRA should have created 29 new jobs on the Island or elsewhere, not just the one.

And the $1.2 million spent by the federal government on Island projects did not include the $1.3 million in repairs to the Cortez Bridge done by the Worth Construction Co. of Jacksonville.

That company was happy to get the project and the federal money.

Barbara Fernandez of Worth Construction said the ARRA “puts a lot of people to work for us that otherwise would be out of a job and on the streets. I don’t mind saying we’re glad the money is there and so are our employees. We’re a minority company and we get our share of jobs. This one came at a good time.”

Fernandez said her company workers all were from the Jacksonville area.

Some Island mayors were happy to get repairs and improvements done with federal money, but were personally not in favor of the ARRA.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford was pleased that funding was found for resurfacing several roads and for some sidewalks, but didn’t like the idea of the stimulus fund.

But if Anna Maria didn’t take the money, she said, some other city would have and Anna Maria would have to pay for its road projects out of its own pocket.

In these economically challenged times, the mayor said the city had little choice but to accept the ARRA offer.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said the stimulus fund was misnamed.

“There was no economic stimulus on Anna Maria Island. It didn’t create any local jobs. All the contractors were from out of the county and brought their own people. The stimulus didn’t stimulate,” he said.

The only benefit for the city was that Holmes Beach “got some sidewalks replaced that the city would have had to pay for eventually,” the mayor said.

Bohnenberger was unimpressed with the “free” work, noting that the companies did not have to bid on the projects and were going to get paid regardless of whether they did a good job.

“It was fairly shoddy work. I had to keep on them all the time about doing things right,” he said.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Mike Pierce, however, was pleased with the $830,000 in stimulus money spent in his city to improve State Road 789/Gulf Drive.

“We got some Gulf Drive enhancements that we would not have been able to afford ourselves as a small city,” Pierce said.

“We also got a new handicap-parking area, new bicycle paths and other improvements. I think it looks nice.”