BENTONVILLE -- Benton County has received just 11 applications for assistance through the American Rescue Plan, but a county official expects things to pick up.
The county's American Rescue Plan Committee held meetings over the past month to discuss how to spend millions in federal dollars that have flowed into the county because of covid-19.
Organizations should apply for money if they can demonstrate their activities support the public-health response or if they have experienced economic harm from the pandemic, and the money they distribute responds to harm in ways related and reasonably proportional, according to a county news release.
Applicants can go to the website https://bentoncountyar.gov/american-rescue-plan and click on the "Submit an American Rescue Plan Proposal" tab to start the application process. Applicants have until 11:59 p.m Oct. 31 to apply.
"This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for organizations in our area to partner with Benton County and mitigate covid-19," said Channing Baker, county communications director. "The Benton County ARP portal is designed for folks to learn more about the American Rescue Plan, read the guiding principles and see if they qualify for the funding under the interim final rule from the U.S. Treasury Department."
Once the application is completed, County Judge Barry Moehring, American Rescue Plan Committee chairman Tom Allen and county Comptroller Brenda Peacock will review it to make sure it complies with rescue plan rules and guidelines. All applications will then be sent to the committee, which will then vote on which organizations will be asked to present to the justices in person; the county will announce dates and protocol for organizations to make their presentations, according to the release.
Peacock said she wasn't surprised by the number of applications received so far.
"We have had requests for information, but it is still early in the process," she said.
Peacock anticipates applications will begin to flow in as the deadline approaches.
Moehring said the process is going well so far, noting the county has had multiple submissions since the portal was launched and several calls from organizations seeking information.
"Perhaps most importantly, the portal has links to resources so organizations can determine whether or not their idea or project is eligible for ARP funding," he said.
The American Rescue Plan provides $350 billion in federal money for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide, according to the county.
The county will receive a combined $54 million -- $27 million over the next two years.
At the Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night, the justices approved an employee pay proposal that will use federal money. The plan still needs Quorum Court approval.
The payments will be $2,000 for full-time employees and $1,000 for part-time employees. The estimated cost is $1.5 million, Peacock said.
Also approved at the Finance Committee meeting was to use federal money to pay staff with the Beaver Lake and Northeast Benton County volunteer fire departments. The proposed payout would be the same amounts that will go to county full-time and part-time workers. Beaver Lake has four full-time employees and 27 part-time staff; Northeast Benton County has three full-time positions and 40 part-time staff. The total cost will be an estimated $90,000, according to county documents.
The two are the only non-municipal supported volunteer fire departments with some paid staff primarily, but not entirely, because they have ambulance service, Moehring said.
The county also will use $207,500 in rescue plan money for volunteer fire departments to match state money in connection with Act 833. Nine county fire departments were listed in county documents. The departments do not receive any municipal support, Moehring said.
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 for fire departments. All expenditures using Act 833 money must be directly related to firefighting capabilities, according to the state.
An appropriation of $113,000 for the Northwest Arkansas Council's vaccine campaign also was discussed at the Finance Committee and will be taken up again at the Committee of the Whole meeting next week.
Infrastructure, water, sewer and broadband and how American Rescue Plan money could be used in those areas were discussed after the Finance Committee meeting, but no decision was made.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on Sept. 9 gave a presentation to the county American Rescue Plan Committee on jail expansion using money from the federal plan.
Justices of the peace granted permission for Moehring to seek qualifications from firms for conceptual designs for a possible expansion of the Benton County Jail during rescue plan discussions.
An eligible American Rescue Plan use is "support for prevention, mitigation or other services in congregate living facilities (incarceration settings, homeless shelters, etc.)," according to information from an Aug. 16 meeting county meeting that dealt with public health and economic recovery.
The county plans to use a little over $1 million in rescue plan money to replace the original heating and air-conditioning roof-top units at the county jail. The jail opened in 1999.
How the American Rescue Plan could address county facilities will be discussed after the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night, comptroller Brenda Peacock said. The Committee of the Whole meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the Quorum Courtroom on the third floor of the County Administration Building in downtown Bentonville.
Source: Benton County