Agenda packets for the Person County Board of Commissioners’ meetings tend to vary in size, but are oftentimes fairly lengthy.
Monday’s meeting had a packet of 108 pages --- that’s kind of on the heavy side.
At the end of the packet was a 42-page section devoted to a scheduled work session that was Agenda Item No. 5 for the meeting, Potential Uses of ARP Funding.
For a more detailed breakdown of what all of that means and what happened at the meeting, we suggest you check out the story on the front page. To summarize the introduction of this in the agenda packet, Person County received $7.67 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The county has set aside a good chunk of that for broadband infrastructure expansion, installing wheelchair and cargo lifts at the Kirby, and digital imaging of records in the Register of Deeds office.
The uncommitted amount is now a shade over $4.4 million.
That’s still a pretty good amount of money and the county’s department heads and their staffs were tasked to come up with projects for how to spend the funds that would be, and these are the keywords here, transformative and equitable.
A list of those projects include a spay, neuter and microchip program and mobile adoption unit for Animal Services, a community risk reduction program for Emergency Services and a host of projects from the Recreation, Arts and Parks Department.
Some of the recreation department projects include, improvements to playgrounds, new picnic shelters, major transformations at the Kirby, greenway planning --- and a splash pad.
Those project proposals come out to $6.5 million, more than $2 million more than what is available to spend, which means that there needed to be some discussion about the merits of each project before deciding how to allocate the funds.
The county employees spent countless hours developing these plans and presenting them to the five members of the board for their consideration.
Department heads were also at the meetings when ARP funding was discussed --- including Monday.
So that brings us to Monday’s meeting when Agenda Item No. 5 was brought up.
Person County Commissioner Chairman Gordon Powell said from the start that this would be an informal discussion and acknowledged during the meeting that all of the projects had value.
We appreciated Commissioner P.J. Gentry’s questions to County Manager Katherine Cathey asking about how some of the projects could be partially funded based on the possibility of attaining grants.
It was at that time during this 18-minute work session for how the county should spend $4.4 million on one of 17 projects where one was actually mentioned by name. Gentry said that she loved the idea of a splash pad. No other project was mentioned throughout the remainder of the meeting.
Around 10 minutes into the discussion, Powell said the following: “Thus far, this board has approached the use of the ARP funding in a very conservative and thoughtful manner related to priorities in the county.”
When the item was first brought up in September, the board took the information that was presented and instead of impetuously picking a handful of projects to fund, took a beat and opted to have a work session and gain more information. New projects were added for consideration and recommended.
Powell went on to say during Monday’s meeting, “we need to be cognizant of the remaining funds and there are no timelines here so there’s no real pressure to make any decisions here...there’s no sense of urgency here and the pressure is off of us, as board members, to make any snap, quick decision without any due diligence or thoughtfulness as we move forward.”
That’s why it was so odd that less than five minutes after making those statements, Powell made a motion to allocate $2 million of that remaining $4.4 million to future economic development projects or incentives. After one question by Vice Chair Derrick Sims to Kathey and just a couple of minutes after the motion was made, it passed, 4-1. The lone dissenting vote came from Gentry.
Almost half of the remaining ARP funds were spoken for.
Powell is the board’s representative on the Person County Economic Development Commission and certainly is in the loop on any pending activity in that realm. When he was asked by The Courier-Times, just how important this $2 million could be going forward, his response: “Yes, it is significant. It is very significant.”
We have no issue with this being the path the board wants to take with spending the ARP funds, especially if it leads to results that are beneficial to the county and possibly to an influx of jobs.
What was troubling to us was the process on Monday.
It would have been nice for there to have been some sort of proposal by Economic Development, at least something more than the three lines in the packet, “Economic development is a top priority for the Board of Commissioners. A certain amount of ARP funding, for example $2 million, could be reserved for future economic development projects and/or incentives.”
We would have liked to have seen the commissioners discuss the merits of each project and let those who are the most invested, the county employees, make their pitches. Not once were any of the them brought to lectern and asked anything during the work session.
The ones who created those 42 pages of information in the agenda packet deserved more than just 18 minutes before seeing almost half of the funding they were working for go away.