Newton to get $1.75M of stimulus

COVINGTON - Newton County has been allocated $1.75 million in federal stimulus money by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The money must be used for transportation projects, though county officials have yet to decide which ones will benefit, according to County Engineer Kevin Walter.

The ARC has $27.1 million remaining from the initial $120 million it was allocated as the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Atlanta region.

After the ARC opted to give $25 million to MARTA, officials with several counties, including Newton, complained.

"They were taking our money and giving it to MARTA, which doesn't benefit us," Walter said. "Newton County weighed in. In response, the ARC tried to take the remaining money and distribute it to the remaining counties that weren't beneficiaries of MARTA's service."

The funds have specific guidelines not usually attached to federal transportation dollars, including a requirement to give higher priority to projects in areas experiencing a high level of economic distress. The five factors considered in allocating the funds were: county unemployment rate compared to the national average; county median household income compared to the national average; county's percent of region's population; county's percent of region's work force; and county's share of the initial phase one stimulus allocation.

Newton is one of 15 counties that will receive funding, with award amounts ranging from $600,000 to $4.3 million.

"All of our local governments are struggling with transportation funding in this economy," said ARC Director Chick Krautler. "And, because $27 million is not enough to build a project of regional impact, the most reasonable thing to do is to split the funds equitably among the local governments."

County officials must submit to the ARC details on the project or projects that will benefit by July 10.

Projects must be shovel-ready by March 2010 to qualify.