Thursday, April 2, 2009

Biden brags about stimulus in N.C. - But money for Pikeville fire station was set under Bush

PIKEVILLE -- Vice President Joe Biden brought a clear message to this tiny Eastern North Carolina town Wednesday: The federal recovery money isn't just for big banks and auto companies.

Biden and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a new wave of $10.4 billion in federal stimulus money for home loans across the country, and billions more for essential services in rural communities such as Pikeville, which is getting money for a new fire station. Biden used the outdated, current station as a backdrop. Pikeville is just north of Goldsboro in Wayne County.

"We're investing in places like this all across the country," Biden said, "to demonstrate the vital role towns like this play in the recovery."

Most of the money for the station that was announced Wednesday, however, had been secured last year under the Bush administration, according to fire department officials.

State Sen. David Rouzer, a Republican who represents Pikeville and worked in the Agriculture Department under President Bush, said he helped secure the fire department money last year out of the federal agency's regular programs.

"They're coming in and cherry picking the best projects and switching out the money, saying it's stimulus money," Rouzer said. "But it was already approved and in the pipeline. It's totally disingenuous to come down here and say this is stimulus money, when regardless of whether a stimulus bill passed, they were getting the money."

The Obama administration is working to draw attention to money for rural communities, where gravel roads and volunteer fire departments are the norm. The moves come as irritation and anger are rising over federal money that has been streaming to Wall Street, banks and car companies.

Biden and Vilsack talked Wednesday about grants that are being parceled out for water systems, police stations, hospitals and fire stations. Earlier in the day, they visited Goshen Medical Center in Faison, where $635,000 in federal money will help hire two doctors, two nurses and three administrative workers.

Pikeville, where nearly all residents live below the poverty line, will receive $150,000 in grants and a $1 million loan toward the $1.3 million cost of the new fire station, said Fire Chief Wesley Wooten.

It is expected to create several months of work for the contractor, who has sat idle since late last year, he said.

A few volunteer firefighters perched on their trucks to watch Biden and snap photos. Fewer than 80people squeezed into metal folding chairs in the bays that normally hold pumper trucks.

"These people are smart people," Wooten said. "Eventually, they'll see the effect."

Biden and Vilsack also talked about money being made available through the Department of Agriculture for low-cost home loans in rural areas.

A wave of new loans, though, sounds like a repeat of what created the recession, said John Tyndall, a volunteer firefighter and corn and soybean farmer who attended the Biden event.

"They gave out loans to people who couldn't pay 'em back," Tyndall said.

Wilbur "Andy" Anderson is the county commissioner for the district that includes the fire department, and one of two Republicans on the board of commissioners. He was not invited to the event in Pikeville, but offered his take later on what Biden had said.

"It'll help people," Anderson said, "but I don't see where it'll create a lot of jobs in the immediate future."

- Staff Writer, The News Observer