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Finance Committee reviews federal funding requests for local projects

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WILLMAR -- The city asked congressional lobbyist David Turch last year to request $9.7 million in federal money for five local projects, including $2 million for the new wastewater conveyance and treatment system.

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None of the requests has yet been approved.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the city asked for the wastewater money, recognizing that Congress has authorized but not appropriated the original $15 million request for the $86.2 million project.

"We'll chip away at it if we can, but we all know what is happening at the federal and state level,'' Schmit told the City Council's Finance Committee on Monday evening. "I don't want to say it's a fruitless effort, but we recognize there may be some difficulties with that particular funding request.''

Schmit gave the committee a list of five funding requests, including the wastewater funding request, in response to a question, which was raised some time ago, about what projects Turch was working on.

Other requests are:

- $550,000 for a Fire Department substation to better serve the northwest part of town. Total estimated cost for sanitary sewer, water, storm sewer and street paving to the four lots that will provide access to the location is $1.7 million to $1.8 million.

- $6 million for construction of a rail line spur to serve the second and third phases of the expanded industrial park.

- $432,000 for a pedestrian tunnel under Ella Avenue at the First Street intersection to connect the downtown to the lakes area.

- $720,660 for railroad quiet zones.

"Those are the projects that we're working on,'' Schmit said.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson asked what projects Turch was working on for 2011. Schmit suggested a new list be developed from the council's strategic planning session.

Anderson said it's fine to have a list, "but the reality is the amount of money that we're going to get is pretty minimal.''

"It is in this day and age,'' Schmit replied.

In a letter to clients, Turch said federal dollars will become more competitive and the procedures for obtaining them more complicated, and specific projects may or may not be approved in bills.

That's because House Republicans have agreed to a moratorium on so-called "earmarks,'' allocations of revenue for specific projects or programs included in broader legislation. Earmark opponents say the moratorium was enacted to control federal spending.

To take full advantage of all federal funding opportunities available, Turch encourages clients to define their interests for the coming year as specifically and early as possible.

In an interview, Turch said the moratorium on earmarks is quite controversial within the Republican caucus.

"It's not coming down easily. I think the noise from the tea partiers in the beginning is going to reinforce that whole business of no earmarks because somehow there's a perception that earmarks are these bad things,'' Turch said.

He said earmarks have nothing to do with the national debt.

The council hired Turch in 2003. His $54,000 annual fee is equally divided between the city and the Willmar Municipal Utilities. He has been a lobbyist for 25 years.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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