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Federal stimulus to spend $126 per person in Hall County
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A sign on Athens Highway near Gillsville Highway marks a stretch of Athens Highway that will be repaved as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. - photo by Tom Reed

A snapshot of spending so far from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act shows that Hall County ranks near the state average in per capita spending and slightly below the national average.

Of the $3.7 billion in federal stimulus contracts, grants and loans dedicated to Georgia since July 20, about $23 million can be directly traced to Hall County. That comes to $126 for every man, woman and child in the county of 184,000, according to a study by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism Web site, projects.propublica.org/recovery.

ProPublica notes that the picture of federal stimulus spending is incomplete. So far $73 billion has been spent and $124 billion is in process, with $384 billion left to spend and another $212 billion in tax cuts.

The project was limited to analyzing the $55 billion in spending that could be directly traced to the county level. While that amount is only 7 percent of the $787 billion that will be spent over the course of the package, it captures a broad array of programs, ProPublica said.

Hall County’s $126 per capita spending compares to the $163 per person statewide figure. Some Georgia counties had as low as $60 per capita funding. The national per capita average so far is $181 for funds that can be directly traced to the county level, according to ProPublica.

Education and transportation money makes up the majority of stimulus money dispersed so far. Hall County has been awarded $9 million in education funding, from Pell Grants for Brenau University, Gainesville State College and Lanier Technical College to Title I grants for disadvantaged students in public schools.

Another $8 million in spending has been devoted in Hall for road projects, mostly repaving work.

The report notes that there appears to be little correlation so far in the amount spent in a county in relation to poverty and unemployment rates. The largest per capita stimulus spending for the state has been in central Georgia’s Wilkinson County, population 10,000, which was the beneficiary of $56 million in federal stimulus money, much of it going toward a large bypass project. Wilkinson County has an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, compared to Hall County’s 9.6 jobless rate.

The main difference is Wilkinson County had a large highway project on the drawing board that was "shovel-ready" with all design work and right-of-way acquisition complete.

"As far as I know, it’s the largest expenditure of stimulus money in the state of Georgia so far," Wilkinson County Manager David Franks said of the North Gordon bypass project. "From what I was told, they wanted projects that were ready to go."

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Terri Pope said that because the federal funds carried the requirement that projects be awarded to a contractor within 120 days, most of the first phase of stimulus road projects have been resurfacing work like that soon to begin in Hall County on State Route 11. The evaluation of resurfacing needs is based solely on road condition, not location, she said.

But Pope noted that preference must be given to counties that are classified as "economically distressed" when considering the projects. However, of Georgia’s 159 counties, only 21 are not considered to be in economically distressed areas.

Georgia Department of Education spokesman Dana Tofig said the three largest areas of recovery money dispersed to Georgia was in Title I, Individuals with Disability Education Act and fiscal stabilization. Title I funding is based on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students who are on free or reduced lunch programs and IDEA funds extra instruction for students with special needs.

While Title I money should reflect the socioeconomic demographics of a county, the money allocated for special needs students can vary widely, Tofig said.

"If you have a student who has dyslexia, it requires a certain amount of extra instruction and will cost a certain amount," Tofig said. "A student who has multiple disabilities is going to cost more. So you can’t just apply a single number across the board."

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