Commission discusses ARPA funds, Rescue Squad

The Jackson County Commission discussed the use of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on Friday, February 25, 2022. The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 22, 2021, providing $350 billion to be divided up in the states in additional funding for state and local governments. Because the funds can be used for general use, as worded in the act, the county has more options in how it can be spent for government services, roads, public service, law enforcement, the Scottsboro Fire Department, safety, ambulance activities, use of cars and trucks, premium pay employees who are eligible for a cut, etc. The county must obligate said funds by December 31, 2024 and must have spent the funds by December 2026.

As of the time of this meeting, there were $8,711,913 in funds that have not been committed. Commissioners listed several categories they would like addressed in the county: A new HVAC system, IT and cybersecurity for the courthouse; remodeling/repairs at Liberty Lane address that will be used to house several agencies currently located in the courthouse; a new scanner for the jail; water projects; food banks; the Scottsboro Jackson Rescue Squad.

Currently the ventilation system at the jail is below standards. The commissioners discussed whether or not to replace the original HVAC system, or if it would be cheaper to make repairs/replacements and install a UV air sanitizer in the ductwork. As of now, the county jail system has had only one reported case of COVID among its inmates. The new scanner would be able to measure body temperatures and would verify whether or not someone is entering with contraband on their person.

The phone and internet system in the courthouse is also outdated and has fallen behind in quality. Some staff report not being able to hear a caller when they take a call. The commissioners would also like to see more IT updates to the facility, allowing more services to be performed online, cutting back on the amount of traffic the courthouse sees on a daily basis. This solution would also increase the security of the building.

The Liberty Lane address has room for several agencies and also more accessible and plentiful parking for citizens who must visit in-person. After replacing the roof with funds from the general fund/capital improvements account, the remaining tasks would be put out to bid and funded by ARPA.

Food banks in the county are estimated to be around 19, but commissioners are certain there are more. They have put together a to-do list to gather all food banks currently listed as 501(c)3, those that aren’t and those funded mostly by churches and their congregations. According to ARPA guidelines, ARPA funds cannot be used for any charitable organization that is not currently a 501(c)3. This year, 990 Jackson County Students requested food assistance, with over 30,000 meals being sent home with them for the weekend to combat food insecurity in their homes. Food for Thought will be asked to come in and discuss the issue.

The commissioners discussed the Scottsboro Jackson Rescue Squad and their need for new doors at their facility that will be used for an expanded COVID testing site from Highlands. At the next work session, Commissioners voted to allow ARPA funds in the amount of $3,000 be set aside for the Rescue Squad to take care of the doors and have them replaced.

Roads were a large topic, with commissioners discussing the urgent need for better infrastructure, bridge maintenance, bridge replacement, a designated road crew and a designated bridge crew. Currently the majority of county roads and bridges are in a state of deterioration. There is also a lack of proper equipment to handle the workload and specific tasks needed to properly pave a road, including a lack of funds to hire enough workers to complete the tasks.

At the next work session, held on Monday, February 28, 2022, commissioners discussed hiring Mike Ashburn to be included on team designated to testing the county’s voting machines prior to the next election that will be held in May.

by Martha Smith

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