Finance Committee discusses next steps for rescue plan money

BENTONVILLE — The Benton County Finance Committee at its last meeting of the year Thursday night discussed next steps in spending millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan funding.

Congress passed a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill to speed up the country’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the covid-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden signed the bill in March. The plan provides $350 billion in federal money for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide.

The county will receive $54 million in American Rescue Plan funding — $27 million this year and next. Total requests in the focus areas of county employees, county facilities, criminal justice, infrastructure such as water and sewer, administrative costs, and public health and economic recovery total a little over $109 million, according to county documents.

The county already has paid out $1.8 million and earmarked another $3.9 million of its American Rescue Plan funds, county comptroller Brenda Peacock said.

The county received 54 applications for rescue plan money. Organizations were to asked to apply if they could demonstrate their activities support the public health response, or if they have experienced economic harm from the pandemic and the money would respond to that harm.

Peacock, County Judge Barry Moehring and American Rescue Plan Committee Chairman Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4, will review the applications and send them to the American Rescue Plan Committee, which is comprised of all justices of the peace. The committee will ask the selected groups to present to it in person.

A tentative schedule has presentations after the Jan. 11 Finance Committee meeting, also on Jan. 13; after the Committee of the Whole meeting Jan. 18, along with Jan. 20 and Jan. 25. The January Quorum Court meeting is Jan. 27. There also will be meetings in February, Allen said.

Also discussed Tuesday night were fiscal 2022 American Rescue Plan appropriations, including phase I of a triage center at the county jail for $100,000.

The first phase will cover programming and conceptual design for the proposed triage facility along with a master plan for future growth at the jail campus, according to a letter to Moehring from Hight Jackson Associates.

TreanorHL will do the work with Hight Jackson in support, according to the letter.

Andy Pitts with TreanorHL, who joined the meeting online, said the work could take three to four months. TreanorHL is based in Kansas City.

The triage center will essentially change the intake facility and add additional space for quarantine, isolation and medical exams, Moehring said.

American Rescue Plan money can be used for “support for prevention, mitigation or other services in congregate living facilities (incarceration settings, homeless shelters, etc.),” according to information from the county.

The item was passed along unanimously to the Quorum Court that will meet Dec. 16.

Other expenditures for next year using American Rescue Plan money include a $1.15 million jail medical services contract, volunteer fire department premium pay ($90,000), Benton County employee premium pay ($1 million), Act 833 matching funds ($264,000), and administrative costs and personal protection equipment ($148,000).

The State Fire Protection Services Program — Act 833 of 1991 — provides money for improvements to qualified fire departments and isn’t intended to pay for the daily operation of fire departments. All expenditures using Act 833 money must be directly related to firefighting capabilities, according to the state.

Those departments do not receive any municipal support, Moehring said.

The expenditures were unanimously passed along to the Quorum Court for final approval and will be presented as one ordinance.

Committee members on Thursday night also approved using rescue plan money for an Arkansas Wireless Information Network two-channel expansion at cost of $1.38 million and a consolette backup system at county Central Communications for $280,450.

Robert McGowen, county Administrator of Public Safety, said more channels are needed to handle increased radio traffic. The county now uses four channels. The item also was moved along to the Quorum Court for approval.

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