BENTONVILLE – Benton County’s finance committee met Tuesday to discuss the allocation of the $ 27 million fund to the US bailout plan.
Congress passed the US $ 1.9 trillion rescue plan in March, which provided financial relief to state and local governments to combat the economic pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Benton County’s Quorum Court set up the fund on May 27 to withhold the money from the federal government until it could decide how best to spend it.
The clawback funds must be due by December 31, 2024 and issued by the same date in 2026. District Judge Barry Möhring suggested holding preliminary exploratory sessions, which would be an extension of the finance committee from the week of July 19th. The meetings would cover both immediate expenditure and items that need further consideration.
Each meeting could have a single focus area, but the August meetings would span larger ideas. Moehring suggested that funding be focused on district employees, district facilities, public health and economic recovery, infrastructure, and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.
When reviewing spending, these members should question whether the spending meets US bailout criteria and whether it solves a problem or benefits Benton County, he said.
Moehring emphasized the importance of transparency, determination and cooperation with the public in determining the use of funds. The process also requires patience as some projects don’t take several years to complete. Some may need to be completed faster than others, but the dish doesn’t have to “eat the whole elephant in one sitting,” said Möhring.
“If we have the right process and are patient, we will achieve the right results,” said Möhring.
Moehring cited ways to deal with the recent negative economic impact, such as accelerating the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sectors, helping small businesses, and helping workers and families.
In addition to helping small businesses, Justice of the Peace Carrie Perrien Smith believes that county process improvements and equipment upgrades would be wise use of money, she said. Smith also cautioned against using grant money to expand the trail system if the maintenance of the trail after the expansion is not taken into account.
Ineligible uses of the money include paying into Rainy Day funds or financial reserves, financing debt servicing, and spending on general infrastructure other than water, sewer, and broadband investments.
Committee members also discussed several remedies during Tuesday’s meeting. They are unanimously donating $ 75,000 from the Cares Act to implement Questys’ document management system in the County Clerk office. The system makes the ongoing process paperless and eliminates document storage.
Additional funding included an additional case manager request for the public defender’s office due to process changes amid the pandemic. The motion was passed after Justice of the Peace Joel Jones requested that the money be drawn from the Cares Act instead of the general fund.
The approved funds will be submitted to the Quorum Court for review.