Washington County officials accept $ 4.8 million in bounties

FAYETTEVILLE – Washington County Justices of the Peace on Tuesday recommended spending about $ 4.8 million in US bailout funds on bonuses for some current county employees.

According to Patrick Deakins, Justice of the Peace for District 5 and chairman of the finance and budget committee, the bonus would be paid to current county employees “for all essential work” performed in person between April 20, 2020 and October 17, 2021 The salary would be calculated as a retroactive bonus of $ 3 per hour. Federal guidelines limit this premium to an amount no more than $ 25,000 for a single eligible worker during the pandemic.

The committee recommended approval of the order, which will be sent to the Quorum Court.

The quorum court has already approved the payment of bonuses for employees of the Washington County detention center, juvenile detention center and a few others. The bonuses recommended on Tuesday are in addition to those previously approved.

Of the $ 4.8 million, more than $ 1.4 million is for employees who work in prisons, according to the order. A little less than a million dollars is reserved for employees of the sheriff’s office. About $ 600,000 is set aside for employees of the roads department. Employees of the county assessor’s office will receive approximately $ 300,000.

County Assessor Russell Hill said the bonus is a way to show county employees that their efforts are appreciated. But District Attorney Matt Durrett pointed out that some county employees work from home with no choice and still maintain the same level of performance. Durrett said he understands the federal government drafted the guidelines, but asked justices of the peace to consider finding a way to include all deserving employees.

“It doesn’t recognize people who were forced to stay home and still did their jobs,” Durrett said of the guidelines. “We didn’t jump for a moment. The phones answered and everything went on except for our busy office.”

Durrett said the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered most court proceedings to be curtailed early in the pandemic and that in the months before vaccines became available, he needed to be concerned about the health and safety of his people. employees. He said he made the decision to have people work from home and they shouldn’t be seen as less essential because of it.

“It’s important to me,” Durrett said. “It’s important for our office. I think we have to make a big deal out of it.”

Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford, District 12, said the county still had around $ 3 million in CARES law funding that was made available to local governments in 2020. Stafford suggested this money. , which was transferred to the county general fund. , could be used to correct any injustice such as that raised by Durrett.

Justices of the peace also discussed a proposal to spend 90% of the county’s $ 46 million US bailout for government needs, including water and sewer demands, and the remaining 10%. requests from non-governmental organizations.

The committee discussed an order setting these guidelines for the county’s share of federal Covid-19 relief funds. The order was referred to the County Services Committee of the Quorum Court for further discussion.

The ordinance would limit spending by non-governmental organizations to two categories. The first is for payments to county residents at risk of foreclosure, with a maximum limit of 12 mortgage payments. Justice of the Peace Jim Wilson, who sponsored the order, said the order provided $ 250,000 for immediate mortgage assistance. The second category involves grant payments to organizations struggling with food insecurity, with the order initially providing for a total of $ 185,000, of which $ 110,000 is for the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, $ 25,000 for the St. James Food Pantry, $ 25,000 for the Feed the 479 group and another. $ 25,000 for the Salvation Army.

Wilson said the groups identified to help provide food aid are not an exhaustive list and that other entities may apply for funding of the 10% set aside once the county sets up an application process. . Wilson said 10% of the county’s 2021 US bailout funding is about $ 2.3 million.

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American rescue plan

The US bailout is providing $ 350 billion in federal money to eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide to offset the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, according to Treasury Department information.

Washington County received $ 23 million this year as part of the plan and expects to receive an additional $ 23 million next year. Benton County will receive a total of $ 54 million, or $ 27 million per year over the next two years.

Source: staff report

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