TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Commissioners for Smith County held their first public hearing where they discussed how to possibly spend the $45 million the area would be receiving under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The law was passed under the Biden administration and allocates $22.5 million to the county this year along with another $22.5 million in 2022. The act was passed to help communities across the nation deal with lost revenue and higher than normal expenses during the pandemic.
ARPA is written so that the money can only be given to certain projects that have to do with lost money from Covid that would have been spent on other county needs They include:
- Support public health expenditures
- Negative economic impacts caused by public health emergency
- Replace lost public sector revenue
- Premium pay for essential workers
- Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure
Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said that he had several guiding principles that he had envisioned for how to spend the funds, including projects that will save tax dollars in the long run and projects that have the broadest reach within the county.
He also said he had broken down three groups of county projects into different levels of priorities and said that he would welcome input from the public as well as commissioners on adjusting them.
- Replace lost county revenue and reimburse county Covid expenses.
- Road/Bridge Infrastructure
- Courthouse construction
- Regional mental health facility & services
- Jail Renovation
- Sewer & Water infrastructure
- Everything else
Moran himself said that it is unlikely that the federal government would allow funds be given to road and bridge projects, but said that he was still awaiting final word.
Precinct 4 Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said that she would prefer the regional mental health center to be a higher priority due to the overcrowding of jails during the pandemic and that a large chunk of inmates suffer from mental illness.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Terry Phillips showed his initial disagreement with that take due to the cost to the taxpayers down the road that could increase long after the ARPA funds dry out. He said that if this were not the case, he would support the center.
Moran closed the meeting by saying that this would be the first of several meetings that the court would be having on the issue and urged the public to make their voices heard when a landing page is finished on the county website later in the week.
ARPA states that the funds must be committed by 2024 and spent by 2026.