Tarrant County and several other Texas counties have received American Rescue Plan funding, Johnson County Commissioner Rick Bailey said during Monday’s meeting of the Johnson County Commissioners Court.
Johnson County as yet has not received its allocation of federal funding, which is expected to be about $34 million.
“We haven’t submitted all the application paperwork yet,” Commissioner Kenny Howell said. “[Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon] put it on [Monday’s] agenda to get input from the court before submitting for it.”
A lot of money, commissioners said, that can do a lot of good for the county but that also raises a lot of questions.
The Rescue Plan and related fund distributions, meant to cover COVID-19-related costs incurred by cities and counties throughout the pandemic as well as mitigation projects going forward, lack clear guidelines, commissioners said.
A recent presentation by the National Association of Counties cleared the waters somewhat, Harmon said, but not enough.
“We learned a little bit from that presentation,” Harmon said. “But there’s still a lot to learn. One thing that’s clear is that if we spend money that’s not qualified we’ll have to pay it back. That’s not a good thing.
“Once we do get this money we want to make sure we’re clear on what it can and can’t be used for before we do anything with it. Anything we end up spending that money on I want to make sure we know it’s approved.”
Commissioner Larry Woolley struck an even more cautious note about the funds upcoming.
“Some things have nightmare written all over them and I think this may be one,” Woolley said. “This money’s coming from the feds so it’s going to be federally controlled. The problem is you can’t talk to a real person at the IRS. You can hold for hours and eventually just get disconnected. But this money I think is going to affect the U.S. in such a way it’s going to be ten times the compliance and red tape issues of [last year’s CARES Act].”
Although no decisions have been made, Harmon suggested using the money for large projects rather than “nickel and dime” expenses so as to keep tracking and compliance matters to a minimum.
“We still have more to learn about the guidelines on how we can use this money,” Harmon said. “And how we’re going to implement it once we get that information. We’re also going to have to decide whether we’re going to hire an outside consultant or what direction we’re going in on that front. [Johnson County Auditor Kirk Kirkpatrick’s] office did a knock out job of handling the CARES Act money we got but our county auditor’s office doesn’t have the personnel to oversee spending $34 million.”
Kirkpatrick, who retired this week after 20 years with the county, agreed that compliance and other maintenance needs of such a large amount would overwhelm the auditor’s office.
When the county and its cities are taken into consideration the amount of federal funding headed this way should top $100 million, Bailey said.
For now Harmon and the commissioners remain in a holding pattern waiting for the funds to arrive and hoping that a clear set of guidelines on their allowable uses arrives before then.
“We’re keeping an eye on the numbers but also transitioning back to our normal duties and very happy to be doing that,” Johnson County Emergency Management Director Jamie Moore said.
Moore, as he has for months, updated commissioners on COVID-19 county related issues.
“Hopefully one of the last times I stand before you all to talk about corona virus,” Moore joked. “This has been on the agenda for a very long time but I think we’re moving to the point where it doesn’t have to be a biweekly item.”
The reasons are several, Moore said, but primarily because cases are dropping.
“Dropped significantly,” Moore said. “And we’ve remained low for over a month now. Last meeting I reported that we had no COVID-19 patients in our hospital since this began, which is a significant milestone. We have right now 33 active cases in the county.”
Since the pandemic began, 16,852 positive cases have been reported in the county, Moore said.
Moore noted that more than 25,000 residents from the county and other areas received vaccinations at the Cleburne vaccination hub, which closed on Wednesday. Between that and other organizations offering vaccinations more than 75,000 have been vaccinated, Moore added.
Partnerships made the difference, Moore said.
“A variety of people came together through the leadership of the Cleburne Fire Department and spent many months vaccinating people across this county and beyond and it was a very successful effort,” Moore said.
Partners included Moore’s staff, as well as officials from the Johnson County Emergency Services District No. 1, Southwestern Adventist University, area hospitals and other volunteers, Moore said.
JCESD Executive Director Tom Foster also credited the numerous area restaurants and business owners who supplied food daily to those working the hub and shot clinics in Burleson.
“Lots of people and partners who pulled together and allowed us to respond to something that was very difficult to respond to,” Moore said.