County puts ARPA money into general fund

Some of Garland County’s federal pandemic relief money will reimburse the general fund for more than $9 million in salaries and benefits, providing funds for capital equipment.

The Garland County Quorum Court adopted the enabling ordinances Monday night, transferring $5 million of the county’s $19.3 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation to the ARPA Revenue Replacement Fund created earlier this year.

US Department of Treasury rules allow local governments to put up to $10 million of ARPA money into revenue replacement. The fund can be used for government services, according to the final rule for allowable expenses the Treasury Department issued in January.

Coupled with money the quorum court appropriated in April from $9,625,282 in ARPA funds the county received last year, Monday’s appropriation put $9,395,657 into revenue replacement. The $5 million from the April appropriation paid for new vehicles for the sheriff’s department and a front-load trash truck, leaving about $4.5 million from the first round of revenue replacement.

The county received the balance of its $19.3 million ARPA allocation earlier this year. The total sum was almost as large as the $20.4 million 2022 general fund budget.

The quorum court directed all of the revenue replacement funds to the reimbursement of general fund salaries and benefits paid from March 16 of last year to June 4 of this year. County Judge Darryl Mahoney told justices of the peace the reimbursement injected the general fund with money for capital purchases, such as heavy equipment for the Cedar Glades Landfill and road department.

A separate ordinance adopted Monday night transferred $1 million from the general fund to machinery and equipment line items in the road and solid waste funds’ budgets, providing both lines with $500,000 each. Mahoney told JPs having funds at the ready is necessary to compete with other localities for capital items sold through the cooperative purchasing program the county subscribes to.

Using general fund money allows the county to avoid federal procurement guidelines, Mahoney said. The city of Hot Springs used a similar strategy earlier this year, replacing police fund money the city’s 2022 budget appropriated for salaries and benefits with ARPA Revenue Replacement funds. The money shifted from personnel to capital funded the upgrade of the police department’s body-worn cameras and in-car video systems.

Mahoney said Horne LLP, the Mississippi firm the county contracted to help it administer its ARPA allocation, recommended the budget adjustments the quorum court adopted Monday night.

“Once we run this through there, all we have to do is meet state procurement guidelines and our purchasing guidelines,” Mahoney told JPs. “It takes the federal part out of it. It will reduce some of the paperwork that has to be done and save us some money in the long run.”

The strategy also satisfied federal spending deadlines. ARPA funds have to be committed by 2024 and spent by 2026.

“It’s already committed, and it’s already spent,” Mahoney told JPs.

The county’s more than $9 million in nonrevenue replacement ARPA funds are subject to federal procurement rules. That money paid for two rounds of premium pay for county employees, providing full-time employees $1 an hour for up to 1,200 hours worked between Jan. 3 and Oct. 23 of last year and $2 an hour for up to 500 hours worked from Jan. 23 2 to May 7 of this year.

Mahoney said nonrevenue replacement funds will support grants or loans the county plans to award. Developing a process to solicit and assess funding requests was one of the deliverables in Horne’s contract, which is worth up to $511,750.

Mahoney cited property owners’ associations with failing sewer systems, such as those permitted to discharge treated wastewater into the Lake Hamilton watershed, as an example of a project that could qualify for a grant or loan.

“We’ll have a committee that reviews projects and see which ones benefit the most people,” Mahoney told JPs. “We’ll reach back out to the consultant and say we need a risk assessment on this.”

Law enforcement pay

The quorum court adopted an ordinance authorizing the county to apply for state stipends for sheriff’s deputies.

Full-time deputies who are certified law enforcement officers are eligible for a $5,000 stipend through the Arkansas Full-Time Law Enforcement Officer Salary Stipend Act of 2022. The county said more than 60 employees at the sheriff’s department qualify for the benefit.

The legislation excluded employees “of a county, regional or city jail or correctional or detention center who is not otherwise employed as an eligible full-time law enforcement officer.”

“I wish it were more inclusive,” Mahoney told JPs. “It did not include a lot of detention officers.”

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