The DeWitt County Board for the better part of 2022 has been debating how to use federal COVID dollars and there was more of it Thursday night at the monthly Board meeting.
On the Thursday agenda were a couple of requests for funding for projects and ARPA (America Rescue Plan Act) funds - that are in the millions - were roped into the conversation. It started with a request from DeWitt County Sheriff Mike Walker for upgrading his department's jail flooring. The debate centered around where the funding should come from as it wasn't budgeted for.
Upon Buck Carter's proposal to use money from an Exelon escrow account, which we'll have more on next week on Regional Radio News, the conversation progressed to using ARPA funds for the proposal.
The Board approved the Sheriff's request for the new jail flooring from ARPA money but Megan Myers echoed Aaron Kammeyer's thoughts on prioritizing where they want the money to go. Board Chair Terry Ferguson pointed out there was an agenda item later in the meeting to do just that.
Later in the meeting, the Board approved making 20 percent of the total ARPA funds available for grants to small businesses. Ferguson pointed out most businesses that applied for the funding when it was initially made available earlier this year are having a banner year and he felt it would best be used to go to non-profits for their revenue losses.
Over $600,000 was proposed to be made available from the funds to the public. David Newberg pointed out DeWitt County is doing more with this funding for the business and non-profit community than any community surrounding it.
Ferguson and Dan Matthews outlined how they arrived at the 20 percent and Matthews noted the federal guidelines have changed significantly regarding how the money can be used.
As the conversation progressed, County Administrator DeeDee Rentmeister pointed out the firm they hired to assist the County in using the funds, Bellweather, has advised if the County decides to just distribute the money, to request tax returns. The other option is to go back to these groups and have them make a request for a project.
The Board held a recent meeting regarding the applications they received for the funding and according to Newberg, no one from the public showed up to the meeting. The conversation between Kammeyer and Newberg grew tense when Kammeyer suggested Kammeyer suggested those applicants be made aware of the meeting to which Newberg took exception because the meeting was posted and an open meeting.
CENCOM Director Tony Harris soon after the 20 percent of the ARPA money, or just over $600,000, was approved was making a presentation for an upgrade to his office's equipment. Before a vote or Harris could field questions, Kammeyer interjected further regarding needing more organization regarding requests for ARPA money.
Travis Houser and Sheriff Walker defended the request from Harris citing its importance.
As the County's annual budget process begins in July, Melonie Tilley, the County's finance committee chair, encouraged any requests to be submitted to the Board with details of what they need and why.
Like the Sheriff's request for new flooring in the jail to be paid for with ARPA money, the Board approved Harris' request for new equipment in the 9-1-1 center from ARPA funds.
We'll have more from the County Board meeting next week on Regional Radio.