Finance Committee to make plans for county COVID relief funds

The Union County Quorum Court voted to create a new budget line for anticipated federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, a COVID-19 stimulus package signed into law in March, during the body’s regular meeting earlier this month.

The Rescue Plan allocated more than $2 billion to Arkansas, and according to reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Union County will receive a total of $7,513,525 from the plan.

“We are anticipating receiving funds from the American Rescue Plan funds and this ordinance puts a place where can put the money,” District 1 Justice of the Peace and Finance Committee chair Mike Dumas said. “This is simply creating a line item so the funds can be stored until the time we spend it.”

The ordinance acknowledges United States Treasury Department guidelines for how American Rescue Plan funds can be spent and also says the budget line will be subject to the same budgeting, appropriation and expenditure rules other county funds are as lined out in state law.

The Treasury guidelines lay out the objectives for the funds, including supporting COVID-19 response efforts, replacing lost public sector revenue, supporting immediate economic stabilization and addressing systemic public health and economic challenges. Another allowed use of the funds is infrastructure spending.

“Those strings (the guidelines) — we’ll look at them and the Finance Committee will develop plans and then come back to the full (Quorum) Court for how we spend this money,” Dumas said.

Debbie Ray, Union County Treasurer, noted that with federal funding over $750,000 come federal audits, which can cost about $10,000 per audit; she said she expects the county will be audited by the federal government for at least the next three or four years.

“The first funds arrive this year, and you have until the end of 2024 to spend the money, so you’ll have audits the next four years,” Dumas said.

Ray also drafted a report on the county’s COVID-related revenue losses, comparing 2019 general turnback revenues, highway fuel tax revenues, sales tax revenues and district court revenues to 2020 figures.

Ray said the county lost money because the district court was shut down in 2020 due to COVID. Her report estimated the county lost $184,000 there compared to 2019.

“We weren’t even able to keep money locally that (the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration) lets us keep. We lost money,” Ray said. “When I talked to (a representative at the DFA), she said I could not recoup that.”

According to the report, the county lost an estimated total of $733,815.58 in revenue in 2020.

“So, we’ve got three-quarters of $1 million of it we already know where it needs to go,” District 7 JP Johnny Burson said.

Dumas also noted that sales tax revenues for April, 2021 were down 23%, though revenues were normal in January, February and March 2021.

“We’ll be getting a check next week (for May’s sales tax revenues); it will be interesting to see if it’s back up or if it’s still down,” Dumas said. “If it’s down again in 20-some-odd percent in May, then that will start having an impact on our anticipated revenue for 2021. … Twenty-three percent is a pretty hard lick on our revenues.”