CARSON CITY — Legislators asked Gibbons administration officials many questions today about how they are spending federal stimulus funds, but generally didn’t get back the answers they wanted.
For instance, state Budget Director Andrew Clinger said he does not know yet how many jobs were created by the $2.2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds allocated to Nevada.
But James Brandmueller, energy program manager for the State Office of Energy, said he knows exactly how many jobs have been created by his agency from the $35 million in stimulus funds that it has received.
“Three,” he said.
“Wow,” responded state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.
Brandmueller said the three jobs are not in the private sector. They are for himself and two other people hired in the last month to run the state’s Energy Office stimulus programs.
Most programs designed to improve energy efficiency that will be managed by his agency are not yet under way, he said. The exchanges came during a six-hour meeting of the Legislature’s Subcommittee for Federal Stimulus Oversight.
Charles Harvey, the state stimulus funds director, ensured legislators that there soon will be a full accounting of how all stimulus dollars are spent. Harvey has been on the job since Sept. 2.
He said all state agencies that received stimulus money must report back to the federal government Oct. 1-10 how the money has been spent. Those reports must include the number of jobs created by the money.
Horsford and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, repeatedly asked administration officials for information on jobs created by stimulus funds.
They noted the goal of President Barack Obama in creating the $787 billion stimulus plan was to put people to work as quickly as possible.
“The public has a right to know,” acknowledged Clinger, who hopes to place job creation information on a revamped Web site, but that site might not be up before Nov. 9. “The information we have now (on the stimulus Web site) is not as helpful as it should be.”
On the site can be found how much money state agencies expected to receive in stimulus funds, but hardly anything on how the money has been spent.
Clinger said he might ask the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee for funds to hire a company to improve the Web site.
At today’s meeting, state agency officials repeatedly said Nevada stimulus programs are only getting started.
For example, Transportation Director Susan Martinovich that 12 of 18 highway projects that will be built with $134 million in stimulus just got under way. Bids for three others soon will be awarded.
Brandmueller said the lack of spending by the Nevada Office of Energy is not unique.
In conversations with the U.S. Department of Energy officials, he said he learned Wednesday that of $11 billion awarded to states for energy efficiency projects, just $300,000 has been spent.
Brandmueller was the target of many of the legislators’ complaints.
He upset urban legislators when he said the Energy Office intends to divide a $7.5 million grant for energy efficiency renovations equally among the state’s 17 school districts.
Under that plan — developed before Brandmueller was hired — Clark County, with more than 300,000 students, would receive the same $441,176 grant as Esmeralda County, with 75 students.
“Most of the schools in Washoe and Clark counties tend to be newer schools that are more energy efficient, compared to older schools in rural areas,” Brandmueller said.
Some rural schools have boilers dating to the 1940s. Putting in more efficient energy heating systems would save them a lot of money, he said.
But his comments ticked off Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno.
Mathews said she has more older schools in her district than any part of Nevada.
“Most are 50 years or older in age,” she said. “You need to look at how the money is spent so it gets to where it is needed the most.”
After those comments, Brandmueller said he might reconsider the equal distribution plan. He plans to meet next week with school districts.
Brandmueller also received many questions about a $2.5 million “appliance replacement” grant that his office might receive in November.
Under this grant, Nevadans could receive rebates if they replace older refrigerators and other appliances with new, energy-efficient models. The program would be open to people of all incomes.
But Brandmueller said he had not finalized a method for awarding the grants. He also noted that the amount of the grant is not substantial.
Horsford complained that the Energy Office still has not developed a regulation on how it would distribute $9.5 million in low-interest loans available under another stimulus program to people who make energy efficiency changes to their homes.
He pointed out a state law requires the office to develop that regulation.
Brandmueller expressed doubts a regulation could be drawn up and money loaned in the next nine months, saying there might be enough time to do it by the deadline.
Horsford insisted he has no choice but to obey the law.
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