Stewardship may prevent self-sabotage
By Jeri Pearson
Local governments have received the first wave of funding, passed by congress as the American Rescue Plan.
Polk County will receive a total of $3.8 million dollars, however according to the language in the act, the money can only be spent in specific areas and not for general purposes.
This bill provides additional relief to address the continued impact of COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses.
Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison said there are a number of issues to consider before spending the funds.
“There are 150 pages of guidance of what is eligible,” he said. “It’s similar to the CARES Act, but the CARES money came through state and state sent it to us. We answered to state and those funds were restricted.
“The American Rescue Plan is direct to us from the federal government and puts a lot more restraints on how it can be spent,” Ellison continued. “It’s a lot of money; we are slated to receive $3.8 million.”
Ellison said there is not currently a plan on how to spend it, and the use of a consultant will be necessary to ensure the funds are utilized on approved purchases and projects.
“I don’t know how to spend it at this time,” Ellison said. “There are so many restrictions on it; the purpose is to mitigate COVID, but it could be for revenue loss. But right now, we don’t know if we meet the qualifications to claim revenue loss, or delayed growth that was impacted by COVID.”
Ellison said states and areas that shut down may benefit more from the federal package.
“We didn’t lose revenue,” he said. “This is possibly a reward to blue states and a penalty to red states. Most of the red states kept working and kept generating revenue. Where as the blue states gummed up the supply chain, caused inflation, told people not to work and lost a lot of revenue.”
Ellison said the county was able to direct CARES Act funding to entities in the county which met the qualifications of the CARES Act, including the Polk County Fair and Rodeo Association, and both the Polk County and Mena Senior Centers, as well as the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
However, the ARP metrics are more stringent.
“If we had lost $3.8 million, I could put that money in the general fund, but we didn’t,” he said. “I’ve been through the document and we will need help from Arkansas Association of Counties.”
A RFQ, Request for Qualification, has been advertised by the county, seeking a consultant for the endeavor.
“We need to get ideas from each other, and I have a few ideas but don’t know if it is going to work,” Ellison said.
“It will be hard to stay within the guidelines. We don’t want the federal government coming back after we have spent money, say it is isn’t eligible and ask for that money back after it has been spent,” he continued. “So we are going to be super careful and slow and let things evolve and develop and get input from other counties and recommendations.”
Though the first payment of $1.3 million has been received, the county has until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend the funds and until 2024 to decide how to spend it.
“There is no need for us to get in a hurry,” Ellison said.