08/17/07 — City officials ask congressman for help with getting project funding

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City officials ask congressman for help with getting project funding

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 17, 2007 1:45 PM

The Goldsboro City Council met with 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield Thursday morning to talk about the possibility of federal funding for some city projects.

Mayor Al King and City Manager Joe Huffman said before the meeting they hoped Butterfield could help them find money for any or all of nine projects estimated to cost more than $120 million.

"If we can get the congressman to help fund all of these projects this year, it's a start," King said.

The nine projects that the city needs funding for are the recreation center, estimated at $12 million; the Paramount Theater, estimated at $5 million; city hall renovations, estimated at $4 million; signalization, estimated at $4.9 million; Stoney Creek Park, estimated at $2 million; downtown master plan, estimated at $50 million; water plant reconstruction, estimated at $40 million; fire station, estimated at $2.5 million; and radios for the fire and police departments, with the amount yet to be determined.

Butterfield made no promises and pointed out that the federal government is currently in a financial crisis of its own, with the war in Iraq, immigration reform and health care on the agenda.

"We are almost $9 trillion in debt," the congressman said.

But, Butterfield, a Democrat, said Congress is working to reverse the financial situation.

"It is the Democratic promise that we would balance the budget by 2012, and we are working to do that. If we don't balance the budget, we will not have the money to invest in rural America, and this is rural America, and rural America will continue to fall apart," he said.

Huffman referred to Butterfield's comment later in the meeting, noting that many of the projects the city has proposed would improve the quality of life in Goldsboro.

"I think a lot of what we've got here is to improve and protect our community," Huffman said. "I think it's part of that economic piece you talked about with rural America."

The problem, Butterfield said, is that there is not enough money to go around.

"I know your community needs help with funding," Butterfield said. "All communities do. It breaks my heart that I can't help most of the requests I get."

The problem, he explained, is that the types of projects Goldsboro is looking for help with, are for the most part, not likely to see funding through the normal channels. If they are to receive anything, he said, it would likely have to be in the form of "earmarks" -- a controversial tool that congressmen use to help special projects in their districts.

"Typically earmarks have been used to give support to projects that wouldn't get funded otherwise. Goldsboro has a long list of needs. If we can get an earmark, they could get funded," Butterfield said.

In today's Congress, however, that type of funding is becoming increasingly harder to come by, he added. Criticism of "pork barrel" projects has become heavier and heavier, he said. Reforms enacted in the House now require sponsors of such legislation to sign all spending requests, and they must be made open to the entire body for debate.

For example, he said, in a defense spending bill approved by the House at the beginning of the month, about 31,000 earmarks were submitted. And while only about 1,300 made it into the bill, none received more than a few minutes of discussion on the House floor.

Butterfield said he believes most earmark measures are for the public good. During his three years in Congress, Butterfield said, he has used them to help bring more than $44 million into the 1st District. Included in that total is $800,000 set aside to help build the new U.S. 70 bypass around Goldsboro.

"I'm very proud of my earmarks. I would never submit one I couldn't defend. It serves a very significant purpose in rural America," Butterfield said.

Despite the gloomy outlook, Councilman Bob Waller pressed Butterfield on what other options they might have.

Butterfield replied that the council members need to contact private businesses and people, agencies, non-profit organizations and foundations.

"You need to advocate for more funding, and I will help you," he said.

He said he realizes Wayne County, and Goldsboro in particular, are in need of government help.

Huffman said the news wasn't what he had hope for, but that it helps city officials to know that representatives in Raleigh and Washington are aware of the city's needs.

"I know obviously there are no guarantees," Huffman said. "I do feel like at least our representative is aware that we have some critical needs in the community."

Butterfield said that many people consider Greenville to be the biggest part of his district, but that Goldsboro is important to him as well. Ninety-five percent of the city lies inside the 1st District lines, he noted.

"I want to do more for Wayne County. I feel that I haven't done enough for your county," he said.

But he reiterated that he could make no promises.

"I want to give it to you straight," Butterfield said. "I want to leave here and give you hope, but it has to be cautioned. We've got to be frugal with what we have.

"I'm not a miracle worker. I'm not a magician. But, I want to make a difference in the district."

-- Staff Writer Matthew Whittle contributed to this report.