County expects more stimulus money

Jackson County officials are returning from Washington, D.C., filled with hope that a federal stimulus package could pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

After getting a rundown on the scope of the stimulus plan, county officials working with local agencies will have to scramble to submit applications over the next two months to qualify under the tight deadlines.

Commissioners C.W. Smith and Dave Gilmour, along with County Administrator Danny Jordan, met with representatives from the offices of senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in Washington to get a rundown on the grant application process. Some 10 to 20 local organizations such as ACCESS and Habitat for Humanity also could try to take advantage of the grants locally.

In addition, the county could seek money for other projects that will create jobs quickly.

Medford airport officials are looking at installing acres of solar panels as part of President Barack Obama's energy plan. The county is looking at outfitting other buildings it owns with solar panels if they can acquire the energy grants.

Money might also be available to help residents replace pre-1979 mobile homes with new, energy efficient models.

The commissioners said there is a bewildering array of grants and other federal programs that will require an intense amount of work by local governments to obtain funds. The county will likely have teams in place next week to coordinate its efforts.

Smith said there is a surprising number of projects outlined in the stimulus package, from job training to providing supplemental nutrition for infants.

Among other potential local projects, Smith said there could be an effort to allow removal of forest debris from logging sites rather than burning it in the fall, which causes local smoke problems.

While there are specific programs the county is eyeing, the stimulus package includes other broader infusions of money to help states ride out the recession.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Oregon will receive $1.62 billion in direct aid and more than $800,000 in Medicaid assistance.

The Act is designed to create or save 3.5 million jobs for American workers, including 44,000 jobs in Oregon.

Other local agencies will get direct relief, including the Rogue Valley Transportation District, which will receive an estimated $2 million in federal funds.

Commissioner Gilmour said there are basically two types of grants available — those that flow directly to the state and those that will be paid directly to local governments.

After several days of meetings, Gilmour said the county has a better idea what it needs to accomplish and how fast it needs to move to meet short deadlines to apply for the money.

Local officials made the rounds at the nation's capital, but Gilmour said representatives from Oregon, including Susan Castillo, superintendent of schools, personally met with President Obama to urge him to free up large chunks of the stimulus money at one time to prevent schools from cutting days out of the year.

On a local level, Gilmour said the county will be working with nonprofits and faith-based groups to take advantage of stimulus dollars.

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