FORT SMITH — The Sebastian County quorum court will be asked to consider a new way to award about 40% of the county’s covid-19 relief money.
County Judge David Hudson told justices of the peace on Tuesday that his office would present them with a proposal to spend $10 million of US bailout funds for personnel and operating costs in this year’s budget when he would feel comfortable doing so.
Hudson wrote in a memo to the Quorum Court that spending the money this way would hold another $10 million in the county’s general fund for a jail — money that wouldn’t have to be spent until the federal deadline of December 31, 2026, which has allowed for greater flexibility in dealing with the prison, which has struggled with overcrowding for years.
“And you’re going to get more facts about that this year, but now has to be a good time to deal with that,” Hudson said.
The quorum court also agreed to meet ahead of its May 17 meeting to discuss how to spend the county’s remaining U.S. bailout money.
The county received $24.8 million in bailout funds, Hudson said. That includes $10 million that can be used for general government services under a rule released by the U.S. Treasury Department in January, and about $14 million to be used under the more restrictive State and Local program guidelines. Tax Recovery Funds.
The quorum court approved a plan to hold the $10 million for planned prison capital construction and hire a consultant to help use the remaining money on March 15. Justices of the Peace previously established a fund within the county’s general fund to track the use of the $10 million.
The plan also involved reviewing a canceled criminal justice system and a study of prison needs with an emphasis on the preliminary design of an expanded prison and a new prison.
In September, the quorum court approved the county to move forward with a project with the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and provides technical assistance in evaluation of prisons and the justice system to jurisdictions considering renovating a prison or building a new one.
Hudson expressed hope on Tuesday that architectural work for a prison renovation and an option to build a new prison will be completed within the next two months.
Hudson also noted that National Institute of Corrections technical assistance projects must be provided within one year of approval. This means that the project that Sebastian County has been approved for must be facilitated by March or April of next year, rather than by the end of September, which Hudson incorrectly claimed at the last meeting. of the Court of quorum. However, Hudson still doesn’t know exactly when the project will be scheduled.
“A key part of the architectural review of the renovation of the existing prison or the construction of a new prison will be the development of projected timeframes for expanding the current prison or building a new prison, which will be useful in determining the multi-annual capital financial planning associated with the correctional facility,” Hudson wrote in his memo.
Hudson said Lindsey Holman, a consultant hired by the Association of Arkansas Counties, said his recommendation was an acceptable way to use the county’s U.S. bailout money. He thinks the county can clarify how it might proceed with outside advice. This would include how to transfer $10 million from the county budget to a designated account to support the jail, as well as the time required to do so.
County Administrator Jeff Turner said Thursday the county has a request for qualifications for a consulting firm to advise it on how to use its U.S. bailout money. This request will end on Friday.
The quorum court will consider issues related to the use of US bailout money for personnel and operating costs and the transfer of money into the county budget after the hiring of a consultant, according to Turner. However, two orders facilitating these things can be presented to justices of the peace.
Lorrie Runion, Justice of the Peace for District 13, said she supports putting Hudson’s proposal in an order “as soon as possible” because she believes it would provide the quorum court with a good focus. and track the money involved.
Hudson also provided the Quorum Court with a list of projects the county considers eligible uses for the $14 million following a review with Holman. The preliminary cost estimate, which includes the hiring of a consulting firm, is over $11.6 million.
The Court of Quorum voted 11 to 1 to award a combined $834,365 to two of the projects as part of a larger credit order. This included $620,000 for a new ambulance for Sebastian County Emergency Medical Services and $214,365 for an Arkansas Wireless Information Network-based paging system for rural fire departments and emergency medical responders.
District 6 Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge cast the lone dissenting vote, after raising questions about the ambulance purchase.
Sebastian County thinks it can spend about $14 million of its U.S. bailout funds on the following projects:
• Hire a consulting firm to help you decide how to spend the money.
• Paying for a sobering center to divert intoxicated people from county jail until 2026.
• Pay for the County Mental Health Specialty Court through 2026, including expansion.
• Consolidate the 911 system.
• A new ambulance for Sebastian County Emergency Medical Services.
• New Arkansas Wireless Information Network tower or towers to improve radio reception in certain areas.
• Improvements to Health Department buildings.
• Improvements to the south entrance of the Fort Smith Courthouse.
• Reme Halo ventilation systems that use ultraviolet light to kill airborne viruses.
• Disinfection and cleaning products.
• Replace water fountains with bottle filling stations.
• Paging system based on the Arkansas Wireless Information Network.
• Grant awards for non-profit organizations.
Source: Sebastian County