Renovating a zoo facility called Monkey Island. Upgrading school toilets so they don’t flush when no one is around. Creating the world’s fastest alternative-fuel vehicle. Turning idle factory space into fish farms.
State officials wanted suggestions on how to spend Indiana’s share of federal stimulus money, and they got plenty of ideas. About 9,000 proposals were submitted through an online survey open to local leaders, economic development officials and anyone else with stimulus plans.
Some of the projects were submitted more than once and others only included rough cost estimates, so an official price tag for the wish list wasn’t available yesterday. But a quick tally of some projects showed the ideas topped $25 billion – far more than the $4.3 billion the state expects in federal stimulus money, much of which will have strings attached.
While some of the ideas seem interesting or a bit wacky, the majority are bricks-and-mortar public works projects such as sewer upgrades and road improvements, said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University who helped the state collect the data. Transportation projects made up 30 percent of the requests, with water, sewer and flood-control proposals making up 13 percent, according to Hicks.
“What really shocked me was the quality of the projects,” Hicks said. “These are legitimate projects that are likely to be things communities need or care about.”
But that doesn’t mean the projects are good candidates for stimulus money. Many of the suggestions won’t qualify for that cash because they won’t be ready for construction quickly. Others, including zoo, swimming pool and golf course projects, have been specifically nixed by the White House.
The survey was a way for the state to collect ideas, but was not a funding application process or a way to vet stimulus projects, said Jane Jankowski, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. However, state agencies could look through the survey results to find proposals that could qualify for stimulus money, she said.
The state put the list of projects on its stimulus Web site yesterday, but did not identify who submitted each proposal. On average, 97 ideas were submitted in each county.
Projects range from a $1 billion biofuels pipeline to smaller initiatives like skate parks, baseball diamonds, sledding hills, park trails and energy-efficiency measures.
One idea was to build the world’s fastest vehicle running entirely from alternative energy fuel sources, a $500,000 project to help Purdue University students learn while promoting Indiana’s energy interests.
Another suggested restoring the historic Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City, with $900,000 going toward the zoo’s Monkey Island and $500,000 toward its feline house.
One survey respondent wanted $400,000 so that a school district in Elkhart County could upgrade its automatic flush toilets so that they stop flushing when the building isn’t being used.
Another Elkhart County project would spend $2 million to $2.5 million to turn factory space sitting empty because of the collapse of the recreational vehicle industry into fish farms that would raise tilapia. Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore said he’s all for the fish-farm proposal if it can bring jobs to the county, which has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 18 percent.
“It wasn’t my idea but I hope that something will come of that,” Moore said of the proposal. “I think it’s a great idea.”