By Jeri Borst
Federal money maybe on its way to Polk County, after the Quorum Court approved applications for CARES Act funding at the September meeting.
“It has been a struggle to get CARES funding at a local level. After pressure from county associations and the municipal league, the state has allocated funding that can be applied for at a local level,” County Judge Brandon Ellison said.
Three resolutions for funding applications were approved by the county and, if approved, the county will transfer CARES Act funding to local entities affected by the pandemic.
The possible funding would benefit the Mena/Polk County and Cossatot Senior Centers, the Polk County Fair and Rodeo Association, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
“There are very narrow categories of eligible things that we can apply for and these are the ones we felt were appropriate,” Ellison said.
Though the Polk County Fair Grounds are owned by the Fair and Rodeo Association, not the county, Ellison said an application on their behalf meets the requirements for the application.
“The fair association basically provides economic development for the county, so we would do a contract for services so they would promote products produced in Polk County,” Ellison explained. “Federal money passes through the county. This is not county funding. We don’t hand out county money for that. Our budget is used for roads and bridges and things like that.”
Ellison said making an application for the senior citizens is also not the county government funding the non-profits that own and operate the centers.
“These are non-profit operations that were affected by the pandemic. The fair did not happen this year as a result of COVID and that resulted in an economic impact in the county. Likewise, the senior centers have been delivering food to the most vulnerable population as a result of the pandemic. So, those two things meet the application requirements, even though they are not county owned. The county is not giving them county money. We are simply making the request on their behalf as part of the process to bring CARES Act funding to the local level,” Ellison said.
Ellison told the Quorum Court that he has reservations regarding the CARES Act funding.
“I’m not really a big fan of CARES Act. It is federal money dolled out to states, first to cities with populations of 500,000 – cities like San Fransisco, Chicago, Dallas . They got direct payments. The rest of the money was given to states. Arkansas got $1.25 billion and no cities got direct funding in Arkansas,” he said.
The funding cannot be used for revenue loss at a local level and comes with many restrictions.
“The state is dolling out money to hospitals and schools and other entities – not that they didn’t deserve it, but yet local governments were not getting any thing,” Ellison said.
The state has set aside $75 million for counties and $75 million for cities , but comes with stipulations on how it can be spent.
A consultant group was hired by the state to offer guidance and ensure funding applications met those stipulations.
“They have decided some budget items could be reimbursed, if you can prove or document they were used in a substantially different way,” Ellison said. “An example is emergency dispatch. They have additional procedures because of the pandemic. Now in court we have extra deputies during court and screening before coming in, which is substantially different. Jailers also have to approach their job different.”
Ellison said the applications may be denied, but it is worth the effort to make the request.
“It makes me nervous, but the consultants said it is good. Worst thing that happens, they give us money and then ask for it back,” he said.
Polk County has been allocated $681,000, however Ellison said it is not prudent to attempt to obtain those funds, unless the stipulations are met.
“It is an opportunity to get that in projects – that money has not been given to us,” he said. “The state has said they would really like to see counties help out in local areas with food. Anything we can do that is a good thing, we should do.”
Projects costing more than $50,000 have more scrutiny, so Ellison suggested keeping projects to a smaller scale.
“It gets rubber stamped if it is an eligible item. For example, senior centers, food for vulnerable people. I feel that is some thing we should do, if we can. Same with the fair association. They didn’t have the fair and that’s how they make money.”
The applications request $30,000 for the Polk County Fair and Rodeo Association; $24,000 for each senior center; and an undetermined amount for hazard pay for deputies, dispatchers and jailers.