At their meeting on Tuesday, Haralson County Commissioners tabled two expenditures they hope to use federal American Rescue Plan Act money to fund.
The county received nearly $2.8 million in ARPA funding, after it has been sitting in the county’s accounts for nine months it has accrued interest and is now $2,870,115, said County Chairman Ronnie Ridley. Of that, the commissioners earmarked the vast majority, $2.4 million, to an agreement with Carroll EMC and SyncGlobal to expand the availability of broadband service throughout the county, “provided we get the grants,” Ridley said. Additionally the county allocated another $396,638 toward emergency ambulance equipment at the request of Ambucare’s Bill Hightower.
That leaves about $73,477 that the commissioners still have available to spend on approved projects or purchases, Ridley said.
The county has been looking at spending a portion of the federal funding to upgrade the wireless internet at all county buildings. Additionally, Sheriff Stacy Williams requested that the commissioners consider a body scanner that would identify contraband that someone was trying to sneak in the jail. That Intercept Body Scanner would cost $149,000, nearly $76,000 more than is currently available in the federal funds.
“We need this system; we need it,” said Sheriff Williams. “Just a week and a half ago, like I told you the other night, we had a guy come in, swallowed two bags of meth, swallowed a bag of heroin and he OD’d in the jail.”
That prisoner was trying to hide the drugs, he didn’t want to tell the deputies or the jail staff about them, Williams said.
“This is all about liability,” he said.
The scanner can detect the contraband inside or outside the body, said Dennis Wolfe, technical consultant for Tek84, the company that sells the scanner. About 30 of the systems are currently located in Georgia, he said. He named Cobb, Paulding, Floyd, Dekalb and Bartow counties are some of the area counties using the system at their jails, Wolfe said.
“All the bigger jails in the state and smaller jails use this because, every jail ... has a contraband problem,” Wolfe said. “All of juvenile detention centers, all the reception centers use this technology to detect contraband coming into their facilities. All the federal prisons use the same technology.”
The scanner is safe, fast and efficient, Wolfe said.
Commissioner Jamie Brown though asked how the county would pay for it since the county’s federal grant funding was running out.
Two residents spoke in favor of the purchase. Jimmy Pope, a former law enforcement officer, said the county should consider any new technology that comes out that would protect the county and its residents should be prioritized by the commissioners.
Hubert Sparks, the former chief appraiser for the county, agreed.
“When I did some research on the American Rescue Plan fund, it appears that there may be additional money that’s earmarked for Haralson County as well,” Sparks said. “So, I would ask you that if we can see fit financially that we certainly fund this; and I would also ask you if additional monies were to become available from the American Rescue Plan fund, that we could even consider upgrading the scanning system at the courthouse.”
But Ridley is skeptical about whether the county will get any more ARPA funding.
“Let me explain the rescue money,” Ridley said. “We got $2.77 million to start with. …We got 50% of what we were supposed to get.”
In May the county should receive another $2.77 million, he said, but added that the second allocation may not come. Under the original Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, the county only received 30% of what it was originally told it would receive, Ridley said.
“We kept waiting on the other 70%; we kept waiting and waiting,” he said. “Then we got an email from the governor one day that said it would not be coming. He was using it to shore up the unemployment.”
That’s why he believes the county shouldn’t be spending that money until it is in the county’s coffers, Ridley said.
Brown said Sparks brought up a good point. Lots of residents visit the courthouse, she said. Not as many visit the jail, she added. Additionally, she said the sheriff has told them there is a shortage of cars and deputies.
“So, we’re running short of staff. We don’t have enough vehicles,” Brown said. “But we’re going to invest $150,000 roughly — let’s round it up — into a piece of equipment for the jail; but we acknowledge the same piece of equipment could be used at the courthouse, too.”
She asked again, how would the county pay for the equipment.
Williams though pointed out that Brown was talking about two different funding sources. The federal funding comes with specific requirements for spending and the body scanner fits those requirements. Law enforcement staff and equipment comes from the annual county budget.
“This is not a burden to the taxpayers,” Williams said. “This is something that was enabled from the president of the United States all the way down through Congress.”
He would understand if the county were to postpone a decision on the purchase until it receives the remainder of the federal funding, Williams said.
The commissioners voted unanimously to table both expenditures until more ARPA funding arrives, potentially in May.
In other business commissioners:
- heard from a disgruntled resident that he was upset about losing a property tax saving program and blamed the loss on poor communication from the Haralson County Tax Assessor’s Office.
- heard from the same resident that he was upset about the Haralson County Board of Education’s creation of a police department for the school system. Ridley reminded him that the commissioners have no input in Board of Education decisions.
- approved a schedule of qualification fees for the county elections in 2022. The fees are 3% of the base salary of each office or $1,900 to run for sheriff, $150 for coroner or surveyor, $1,500 for magistrate judge, $1,850 for probate judge or clerk of superior court, $2,000 for commission chairman, $230 for county commissioner and $75 for Board of Education.
- reappointed Alison Palmer as county clerk and David Mecklin of Tisinger Vance as county attorney.
- approved a federal awards cash management policy that specified how federal funds would be handled by the county.
- approved a resolution to included a new special purpose local option sales tax for transportation referendum on the May election ballot. The current T-SPLOST is on the cusp of ending as the specified amount of the revenue received from the tax in the original referendum is reached.
The next scheduled meeting of the Haralson County Commission is Jan. 18, at 6 p.m.