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Washington County officials support rural fire needs

by Tom Sissom | November 30, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
The Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's justices of the peace on Monday endorsed a request for $5.4 million to buy self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighters and other first responders.

The Quorum Court's County Services Committee sent a request for $5.4 million in federal covid-19 aid money on equipment for rural fire departments in the county on to the county's Finance and Budget Committee. The ordinance appropriating the money for new self-contained breathing apparatus for the Rural Fire Association was presented to the County Services Committee in October and then tabled until the December meeting.

According to the ordinance, most of the breathing apparatus now in use are more than 20 years old and do not meet current safety standards.

Willie Watts, assistant fire chief with the Fayetteville Fire Department and with the Farmington Fire Department, told the justices of the peace that changes made by the manufacturers of the equipment means any new models are not "backward compatible, meaning new models cannot be used alongside older models in many situations. Watts explained to the committee that one essential feature of the breathing apparatus, the "buddy breathing system," allows one firefighter to provide air to another by connecting the two air packs.

Watts said the proposal will provide 300 of the self-contained breathing apparatus, enough for all of the fire departments in Washington County. He said with the growth of the county's population fire departments are more and more often called on to assist neighboring department, making compatibility across department lines important.

The justices of the peace also recommended approval of a proposal to divide the county's $46 million in American Rescue Plan money on government needs, including water and sewer requests, and on requests from non-governmental organizations. After some discussion, the committee voted to set aside 17.5% of the $46 million for non-g9overnmental entities and 82.55 for government needs, including public water and sewer projects.

The Quorum Court's Finance and Budget Committee discussed the ordinance setting those guidelines for the county's share of federal covid-19 relief funds at its Nov. 9 meeting. The ordinance was referred to the County Services Committee for more discussion.

The ordinance would limit non-governmental organization spending to two categories. The first is payments to county residents who are at risk of foreclosure, with a limit of no more than 12 mortgage payments. Justice of the Peace Jim Wilson, who sponsored the ordinance, said the ordinance sets aside $250,000 for immediate mortgage assistance. The second category is grant payments to organizations that address food insecurity. The ordinance initially set aside a total of $185,000 for four agencies that work to provide food assistance but was amended to delete the specific dollar amounts.

The ordinance will go to the Quorum Court's Finance & Budget Committee.

Also Monday, the committee heard a request for Washington County to provide about $2.9 million for a program meant to increase the number of people receiving job training in health care. The money would be used for infrastructure needs, expanding training facilities in health care education, and for support for ongoing programming efforts. No ordinance had been prepared so the justices of the peace took no action on the request Monday.

American Rescue Plan

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The American Rescue Plan provides $350 billion in federal money for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide to offset the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, according to information from the Treasury Department. Washington County has received $23 million this year under the plan and expects to receive another $23 million next year. Benton County will receive a total of $54 million - $27 million per year over the next two years.

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette

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