LEE COUNTY, Fla-- Federal stimulus money set aside to weatherize homes is being used in Lee County. Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, low income people can make their homes more energy efficient. A WINK News Call for Action investigation reveals just how some of the 1.2 million dollars is being spent.
After three years in Florida, North Fort Myers resident Carole Harrison can finally cool off. Contractors replaced her old air conditioner and put in new screens and a new refrigerator all thanks to federal stimulus money.
At Sid Frank's North Fort Myers home contractors put in a new hot water heater, new shower heads, vents and installed energy efficient light bulbs.
The weatherization assistance program aims to help Frank and Harrison make ends meet by bringing down the cost of their utility bills. It's funded by federal stimulus dollars--which are then distributed to state and county governments. WINK News Call for Action wanted to know how efficient Lee County was in spending your money.
We asked for all of the bid sheets, invoices and change orders from all 35 projects completed so far in Lee County. The county bid out each project separately and accepted the lowest bid each time. But we found some of the individual prices interesting.
In Frank's home, you paid 85 dollars for 28 florescent energy efficient light bulbs. Call for Action found that same box of 12 bulbs for 21 dollars at a hardware store. If you bought the bulbs individually they would cost 97 cents each.
At Carole's house 13 light bulbs cost you 30 dollars. Keep in mind someone has to screw them in. So how much does it cost taxpayers to screw in a light bulb?
The price ranged from just ten dollars at one home to 50 dollars at Carole's home.
"Not like it was something I couldn't do but that's OK," Carole told WINK News.
At Sid's house, the contractor charged 140 dollars. Why the huge swing in price?
We asked Lee County Human Services Housing Manager Shawn Tan.
"It's based on the bottom line," Tan told Call for Action. "We basically just take the lowest bid to make sure they are reasonable, but we do basically take the lowest bid. We don't want to tell the contractor how to bid on a job and how to price a job and how to price the materials. But we look at the bottom line."
The problem is not many contractors want to bid on these projects. We found most of the projects only brought in about four bids each. The state requires all contractors for these projects to pay wages set by the state and have pollution insurance which can cost upwards of 25 hundred dollars.
These two things make it costly for contractors to work on these projects.
"It makes it unattractive to bid on the weatherization project," said Tan.
To make a profit contractors have to build those costs into their bids. In fact, we found the contractors who can afford to do projects like Sid's aren't necessarily employing large crews or creating lots of jobs. The project at Sid's home employed one worker.
"Do you know you're getting the best deal?" asked Call for Action reporter Melissa Yeager.
"I think we do. I believe so," said Tan.
Lee County still has more than half a million dollars to do more of these projects for grateful homeowners like Sid and Carole.
"It was marvelous. It's a great program that's what I got to say. I wish more people knew about it," said Carole.
For more information on stimulus projects in Lee County click here