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Douglas County Board holds Special Board Meeting on November 29

By Jim Allen
A special board meeting was held at 3:00 p.m. on November 29, 2021.

All board members were present. As the first order of business, Hettinger made a motion to enter into an agreement with Larson, Woodyard, and Henson LLP in the amount of $6,500 for preparation of the 2022 budget. 

The next item was Ordinance 21-0-14 regarding the use of ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) for a joint water agency water main project. Munson had sent an outline to board members for projects that might be qualified for ARPA funds. At this time there are four projects proposed by Munson that will take the bulk of the 3.7 million dollars in ARPA funds. The projects are as follows:

Joint water main project.

A truck for the EMA—-this has been approved by Bellwether, the company employed to  determine eligibility of the projects

Newman water improvement project

Embarrass area water district—improvements on the east side of the county

Full funding of these projects would leave a balance of $812,000 in the ARPA funds. Other projects are direct county government projects. These projects fall under the “lost revenue due to COVID”. There are less stringent requirements for these funds. Seven projects are proposed that would leave a balance of $8,800 in the ARPA funds. The ARPA funds do not have to be spent until 12-31-24. 

Phil Morris stated that any project should include participation by those who would benefit from the ARPA funds. As an example, Newman has approximately $150,000 to help with the cost of improvements and has requested $400,000. The other water projects have a similar ratio of funds. Morris also stated that there should be an intergovernmental agreement before the board voted on any allocation of ARPA funds. Of the three main projects, only the EMA truck would not necessitate such an agreement. Munson agreed that intergovernmental agreements should be in place and has directed States Attorney Kate Watson to work on them. Munson also said that updates to authorities should be a requirement of those who are completing the projects, not the county.

Gary Luth agreed with Morris as to the agreements, but further was concerned with the use of ARPA funds to assist for-profit entities. Of the three main projects, only the Newman water improvements are non-profit and the city has already raised rates to help fund the improvements. ARPA funds are taken from tax payer money. Part of the project includes a water line to Cabot Corporation. No one questions the significance of Cabot to the area, but the concern is that taxpayers should not be involved in infrastructure that benefits corporations.

Munson said that the $335,000 for the water line to Cabot was going to come from Arcola and Tuscola, and that Cabot would reimburse them for the funds. Munson referred to this as a “side agreement” between Arcola, Tuscola, and Cabot. Morris said he would like to see the side agreements in place before moving forward with any agreement. Luth pointed out that the information given to the board stated specifically that the $335,000 would come from the ARPA funds regardless of what had been discussed between other parties. Morris stressed again that all agreements should be put in writing, not simply understood. I do not have any printed material regarding the ARPA projects and rely on what has been discussed in the meeting. Due to the questions raised, Bibby Appleby made a motion to table Ordinance 21-0-14. Dick Hein seconded the motion and it passed with a unanimous vote.

Curtis Root entered the meeting at about 3:30 to discuss the 2022 budget. Mr. Root passed out a copy of the amended 2021 budget and the proposed 2022 budget to all members of the board. This was the first time that four members of the board had seen the budget. Only the Budget and Finance committee members had a copy to study. The budget will be posted online.

Questions about the amended 2021 budget were answered and the board approved the budget 7-0.

After lengthy discussion, Jim Mikeworth made a motion to accept the 2022 budget appropriation and levy. Bibby Appleby seconded the motion and it passed 7-0. The budget is available for inspection by the public.

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