Stimulus funding creates county jobs

Kyle Roerink

Unemployment rate is still rising, though

The recession may be over, but unemployment rates in Portage County are still on the rise.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the unemployment rate in Portage County in July 2009 was 10.8 percent, rising from 6.5 percent in July 2008.

The rate did not increase from June’s estimated figure of 10.8 percent, but the unemployment rate in Ohio for July 2009 was 11.2 percent, up from 11.1 percent in June. It was the state’s eighth month in a row where the unemployment figure rose.

Since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in February, Americans have been skeptical whether the $787 billion stimulus program has positively affected the nation’s economy.

The act ensured a galvanized economy with at least 3 million new jobs during a two-year period.

But more than six months after the stimulus plan went into effect, Portage County’s biggest problem is still unemployment, said Maureen Frederick, vice president of the board of Portage County Commissioners.

Portage County initially asked for more than $60 million in stimulus aid from the federal government, but it only received between $10 to $12 million, she said.

In an effort to create new jobs, Dan Banks, Portage County grants administrator, said the county received $85,634 for two new sheriff deputies; $85,634 for two full-time courtroom deputies; $45,750 on behalf of the Ohio Drug Use Prevention Program to have deputies in public schools; and $59,037.50 for the Portage County Victims Advocates Collaboration to move part-time employees to full-time employees at the Victim’s Advocate Department of the prosecutor’s office.

Some of the jobs created by the stimulus money were only transient or have yet to go into effect.

The Portage County Workforce Connection received $1.3 million to start a summer jobs program. One hundred and-fifty 14- to 24-year-old Portage residents who otherwise may not have had jobs during the summer were put to work all over the county.

The participants were placed in fields that piqued their long-term job interests. Some of those who were involved worked at the dog warden, automotive body shops, Kent State’s Family and Community Services Department, the Community Action Council and on a “green team” that helped to maintain local parks in the area, said Mary Boston, supervisor of the Portage County Workforce Connection.

She said the program began on May 15 and will run until Sept. 30 for 14- to 18-year-old participants. And those who were between the ages of 18 and 24 and not in school have a chance to work until March 31, 2010 because the program only consumed 90 percent of the money it received, leaving room to keep people employed for a longer period of time.

Assistant County Engineer Scott Miller said $3 million is slated for a new Crain Avenue bridge, and $1.124 million was used in the construction of the new Brady Lake Road bridge. The county hired private contractors to build the Brady Lake Road bridge and will do the same when it is time to begin building the Crain Avenue Bridge. The construction offers the opportunity for private contractors to put people to work and potentially add new employees to their labor pools.

Frederick said the hard part about a lot of these programs was that employment was only temporary. She said government officials who are keeping an eye on the money channeled throughout the nation don’t understand the fact that once the federal funds dry up balance sheets go right back to being in the red.

“The federal government expects you to put these people on your payroll, but the budgets are so tight – not only in this county, but in every other jurisdiction,” Frederick said. “Everybody is kind of in decline mode. I don’t know when the economy will rally to where you can support the employees you have today – let alone additional employees.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].