City launches stimulus oversight projects

St. John Barned-Smith | 3/11/2009, 7:09 a.m.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston City Council each announced efforts last Wednesday to ensure that the process of distributing the city’s share of the $787 billion federal stimulus package is as open and transparent as possible.

Menino announced the creation of a Web site that allows Boston residents to track the dissemination of funds given to the city by the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17.

The idea to create the new Web site, http://www.cityofboston.gov/recovery, grew out of a meeting that Menino and 75 other mayors had with Obama, who stressed that the importance of transparency in distributing the federal stimulus money, according to mayoral press aide Nick Martin.

“We’re trying to keep funding descriptions as detailed as possible,” Martin said. “We’re really interested in making this as short a turnaround as possible, and we’re really interested in providing people with the most current information [about the process].”

According to the Web site, Boston has already been allocated $147.4 million in stimulus funding, with the bulk of the money going toward housing, transportation and education projects. Of that money, $12.9 million will be used for renovation projects along Dorchester Avenue, $21 million will go to citywide street paving and $5 million to traffic light upgrades.

The Boston Housing Authority will receive $33 million, $10 million of which will go toward renovating the Washington-Beech Housing Complex. The city’s Department of Neighborhood Development will receive $5.3 million for various projects and $8.2 million in emergency shelter grants.

The Boston Police Department is slated to receive $3.9 million through the federal Justice Assistant Grant program. And, according to early estimates, the Boston Public Schools will receive about $58 million in funding to help disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

Working along the same lines, during last  Wednesday’s City Council meeting, council president Michael P. Ross formed the chamber’s Special Committee on Federal Stimulus Oversight.

“The federal stimulus funds present an opportunity for the City of Boston to create jobs and bring development to the city during the economic downturn,” Ross said in a statement. “By getting involved in the early stages of appropriating the funds, the council and the public can ensure that the money is spent in a way that will position Boston to emerge from the recession even stronger than before.”

In a later interview, Ross elaborated on his aims for the committee.

“Outside of the [city’s] operating budget, there will be capital funds, and that needs to be tracked as well,” Ross told the Banner. “There are also going to be general good-government reasons for why we want to pay attention to [an] unprecedented amount of funds coming into the city. It’s important that there’s a process in place.”

How the stimulus funds will be split has been a hot topic of late. The Banner last week reported on efforts by community organizers statewide to ensure that minority communities are involved in that distribution.