Official offers to spend aid against virus

FAYETTEVILLE – Washington County Judge Joseph Wood has signaled his willingness to spend part of the county’s $ 4.5 million in relief money for Covid-19, but has not provided any details on how much could to be spent.

Brian Lester, county attorney, released a statement from Wood on Monday evening. Wood admitted to hearing a wide range of opinions on how to use federal money, ranging from total spending to total savings.

“To address these various concerns and maximize the CARES Act funds, I propose that the Washington County Quorum Court enact an order setting aside a portion of the CARES Act fund to be used as a matching grant with the cities.” responding to the urgent needs of our citizens. “said Wood.” The specific emergency needs expressed to me include: food insecurity in our most vulnerable communities; loans or grants to ensure that small businesses survive the negative economic impact Covid-19; and money to make sure private entities have the resources to purchase necessary personal protective equipment or help with vaccine distribution. “

Lester said Wood did not come up with a specific amount to set aside or the mechanism to use to disburse the money.

“It would be in the Court of Quorum,” Lester said Tuesday.

Patrick Deakins, justice of the peace for District 5 in northeast Washington County and chairman of the finance and budget committee, said Tuesday his views on spending the money remained unchanged. Deakins said he was concerned the county would incur more spending, highlighting the potential costs associated with opening circuit courts and county offices to more normal operations.

Deakins said he did not intend to put the proposal on the agenda for the April 6 committee meeting. Deakins said the judge’s statement made an interesting contribution to the conversation.

Shawndra Washington, Justice of the Peace for District 8 in Fayetteville, is a member of the committee. Washington said the proposal should be discussed as soon as possible. She intends to ask that it be on the agenda on April 6.

“It requires swift action,” Washington said. “We cannot afford to delay this until May.”

The quorum court last month rejected a proposal by Fayetteville District 9 Justice of the Peace Eva Madison to allocate $ 3.6 million of the $ 4.5 million. The proposal would have directed $ 1.2 million in assistance to small businesses; money to fight hunger; and money to provide financial assistance to residents who have lost their homes or have experienced financial hardship related to homelessness or housing insecurity.

Madison said the county could provide the assistance by contracting with other agencies and nonprofit groups to administer the programs.

Madison said Tuesday she was encouraged to take her idea to Wood and someone from the quorum court now needs to push it forward.

County residents who pressured the quorum court to take action to spend the money had mixed opinions on Wood’s proposal.

Beth Coger of Fayetteville, who unsuccessfully ran for District 4 field headquarters last year, said she was disappointed with the lack of details. Coger said the county had known about the money since November and still had no real plan for using it.

“I think it’s just a salad of words,” Coger said. “It really doesn’t matter.”

Clint Schnekloth, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, said he has many questions about how Wood’s proposal might be implemented, but he is encouraged by this as he indicates that the County officials listen to people in the community.

“I’m happy to see this move,” said Schnekloth. “It indicates he heard us.”

Washington County also received about $ 7.1 million for housing assistance, which is administered by the Fayetteville Housing Authority and the Springdale Housing Authority.

Wood told justices of the peace last month that Washington County could receive up to $ 46 million in additional Covid-19 assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act, which was recently approved by Congress .

Tom Sissom can be contacted by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWATom.

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