The El Dorado City Council has agreed to wait until its next Finance Committee meeting to discuss how best to spend $1.82 million in federal funding that was allotted to the city as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.
City officials broached the topic during their last regular meeting on Sept. 9.
A week prior, Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer reached out to council members about the matter, noting then that the Union County Quorum Court had agreed to direct a portion of $3.5 million in ARPA funds the county had received toward employee bonuses in the form of hazard pay.
The bonuses will be allotted for each day county employees worked regular hours between March 11, 2020, and April 8, 2021 -- the period during which a State of Emergency had been declared in Arkansas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith-Creer said that once city employees heard about the quorum court's decision to award bonuses to county employees, some asked if city officials were considering similar actions.
In May, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the launch of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, as established by ARPA, to provide $350 billion in emergency funding for eligible state, local, territorial and Tribal governments.
Smith-Creer applied for ARPA funding in June on behalf of the city and the funds were disbursed in July.
The mayor sent an email to city council members on Aug. 31, asking for their consideration on how to expend the funds.
She pointed out that the county had dedicated some of its ARPA funding to employee bonuses.
At the time, Council Member Vance Williamson, who chairs the Finance Committee, suggested that the council "pay all city employees a bonus similar to what we do for Christmas bonuses."
Other council members agreed.
Smith-Creer said she thought further discussion was in order to ensure the funds are expended in accordance with federal rules and guidelines.
In her email to the city council, she included a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of the Treasury detailing how the COVID relief funds may be spent.
According to the fact sheet, the funds may be used to:
• Support public health expenditures.
• Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency.
• Replace lost public sector revenue.
• Provide premium pay for essential workers.
• Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
Smith-Creer said she had also spoken with local accounting firm Emrich and Scroggins, who is continuing to line out the city's financial records in the months-long absence of a city treasurer.
"Emrich and Scroggins deposited (the ARPA funds) in the bank and it showed up in our general fund," Creer-Smith said.
She said E&S recommended that the city follow Union County's lead and consult with the Southwest Planning and Development District in Magnolia about how best to spend ARPA funds.
Smith-Creer said the city is expected to also receive the same amount in ARPA funding next year.
During a city council meeting last week, Williamson said he had spoken with Police Chief Kenny Hickman, Fire Chief Chad Mosby and Robert Edmonds, director of public works.
Williamson said he would like to call a Finance Committee meeting later this month to sit down with city department heads and discuss the matter in more detail.
"I'd like the department heads to be involved. I think that would be best," Williamson said.
"I think whatever we do, I really think we have an opportunity to show our employees how much we appreciate them, especially in the (COVID-19) pandemic," added Council Member Willie McGhee. "I just think if we can do it, we need to do the maximum to show them how much we appreciate them."
In other business, the council signed off on a request from the El Dorado Police Department to use a federal grant to purchase lawn equipment and a storage building for the EPD firing/training range on South Jackson Avenue.
Capt. Jason Dumas said that for years, officers have been using their personal lawn-care equipment to maintain the grounds at the range.
"We already have the money for it so it won't cost the taxpayers anything. We just need your approval," Dumas said, noting that the EPD's grant writer researched the grant and submitted the application.
McGhee lauded the EPD's efforts in finding a grant to cover the costs of the project.
"That's going above and beyond to find a solution to the problem," McGhee said.