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Benton County Quorum Court to start meetings on American Rescue Plan

by Mike Jones | August 14, 2021 at 7:35 a.m.
The Benton County Courthouse.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's Quorum Court soon will discuss how to spend $27 million from the American Rescue Plan.

Justices of the peace will hold the first meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the Quorum Courtroom on the third floor of the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave. The first topic is scheduled to be public health and economic recovery.

Meetings set for this past Tuesday and Thursday were rescheduled to later dates.

"From the information about what is planned for the meetings, it sounds like we will be presented a methodical plan to consider projects that are possible and would benefit the citizens of our county that fit into the parameters of the rules of the program," Justice of the Peace Susan Anglin of Bentonville said. "At this point, that is what I am looking forward to. As I read more about the intent of these funds, we are presented with an opportunity to utilize funds for a variety of issues that impact our county for years to come. It's a sobering responsibility to make the best choices to impact the most."

The American Rescue plan provides $350 billion in federal money for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide, according to a county news release.

Benton County also will receive $27 million from the plan next year.

Washington County will receive a total of $46 million from the American Rescue Plan -- $23 million this year and next.

Justice of the Peace Ken Farmer of Rogers said he likes the meeting format that has been established.

"We will be able to hear proposals and ideas without the pressure of an immediate decision," he said. "We will have time to decide what is best for us. I think we should listen to all ideas before we make a final decision."

Farmer said he plans to keep an open mind in all the meetings, but will be very interested in the meetings about county employees and when the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee makes its presentation.

Anglin is particularly interested in possible money for water quality, food insecurity, child care and health.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds provide a substantial infusion of resources to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.

The U.S. Department of Treasury launched the relief to support urgent covid-19 response efforts to continue to decrease spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control; replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs; support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses and to address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the impact of the pandemic, according to the county news release.

Feedback from residents about how to spend to the money has been almost nil, Anglin and Farmer said.

Anglin said she had a brief conversation with one person in regard to water-quality issues, particularly about storm water. Farmer said when the county first received the money a couple of residents asked at a county meeting the money be returned to the federal government. Farmer said he also talked with one person who suggested replacing the county jail with the money.

Washington County's Finance & Budget Committee on Tuesday recommended spending $250,000 on design work for an expansion of the detention center and another $250,000 for design work to add courtroom and administrative space to the county's Juvenile Justice Center with the money taken from the county's American Rescue Plan funds. The ordinances will be considered by the full Quorum Court on Aug. 19.

The jail expansion would add space fof 130 beds for women detainees and 100 beds for men. The project would also add some administrative and courtroom space along with additional storage space. The initial cost estimate for the expansion was between $12 million and $15.5 million.

The additional space at the Juvenile Justice Center would add a second courtroom, additional office space and expand the lobby. The project has been discussed for several years but was put on hold early in 2020 because of the covid-19 pandemic. The cost estimate for the project in 2020 was about $5.5 million.

Patrick Deakins, chairman of the Finance & Budget Committee, said if the projects are approved he expects the construction costs to be paid for by American Rescue Plan funds as well.

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Upcoming meetings

Tentative meeting dates for the Benton County Quorum Court to discuss how to spend American Rescue Plan funds include:

Monday: Public health and economic recovery.

Tuesday: County workforce.

Aug. 23: Infrastructure, water, sewer and broadband.

Sept. 9: Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

Sept 14: County facilities.

Meetings will be held at 6 p.m.in the Quorum Courtroom on the third floor of the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave.

Source: Benton County

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