Beachmont project thrust into national spotlight; job figures were overblown

November 19, 2009
By

There’s apparently a striking similarity between a magician’s rabbit and the numbers of jobs reportedly created by the Federal Stimulus Bill.

The similarity is that they’re both pulled out of a hat.

As national lawmakers began touting the success of the $787 billion Stimulus Bill recently, in preparation most likely to call for a second Stimulus bill, some of those reported national successes are not adding up locally.

President Barack Obama’s administration reported a few weeks back that the bill had created some 640,000 jobs nationwide.

Now, in Massachusetts, those numbers are being questioned. The Boston Globe even reported last week that Massachusetts’ numbers are “wildly exaggerated.”

Thrust into the center of that national debate is Revere, and a small solar energy project on the Beachmont School roof. The case has garnered regional and national attention as an example of bad Stimulus behavior.

In numbers forwarded from the state to the federal government, Revere’s project was touted as having created 64 new jobs to spur on the economy.

In retrospect, that was probably 62 too many.

“The discrepancy was the job number was for the whole roof project, and not just the part funded by Stimulus,” said Mayor Tom Ambrosino. “Even for that whole roof, 64 jobs seems high, but probably at one time or another there probably were 64 people working on that roof.”

The problem, however, is that almost all of those jobs were paid for and created by Revere taxpayers, not federal Stimulus Funds.

The Beachmont Roof project has been long in the making – needing replacement for years.

Last Spring, as part of a larger property management contract, the roof was approved by the City Council within a $10 million bonding authorization – a request that covered repairs to the roof as well as repairs to other schools in the district. Of that $10 million, nearly $3 million of it went to pay for the Beachmont School roof.

Revere taxpayers will be footing that bill for the next 20 years.

The confusion came due to a small part of the project that called for new solar panels to be installed on the school roof. For that one aspect of the roof replacement, the city received $485,000 in Stimulus Funds, but all of the roof jobs were lumped together and attributed to the Stimulus.

As it has been pointed out in many nationwide publications, if the roof project created 64 jobs, then those created jobs pay only $7,500 a year – not even minimum wage.

Ambrosino said that Revere’s project certainly did not create 64 jobs, and the problem likely lies in the “Byzantine” reporting requirements and paperwork associated with the use of Stimulus Funds.

He said he tried to fill out the paperwork himself, but eventually gave up.

“The federal government reporting requirements for the Stimulus is, in my opinion, very confusing,” he said. “I tried to do it myself here and eventually gave up and called the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) for help. I couldn’t figure out what they were asking for.”

He said that MAPC handled all the Stimulus paperwork associated with the roof project.

“We didn’t handle the application,” he said. “We subbed it out to MAPC.”

A spokesperson from MAPC did not return a phone call in time for this story.

Revere, though, was only one of several examples of overstating the success of Stimulus money in Massachusetts.

Bridgewater State College reported creating 160 full-time jobs due to Stimulus funding. However, they actually created zero jobs and are filing a correction.

Despite all of that, Mayor Ambrosino said that, philosophically, he believes that the Stimulus Bill was the correct thing to do for the city, state and country.

“I think it was worth it and the country is slowly coming out of this,” he said. “The lesson [Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke learned from the Great Depression was you can’t sit idly by and do nothing. You have to enter the markets…I was glad at least there was an effort to assist in getting the markets back.”

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