Concerns arise over Washington County’s use of American Rescue Plan funds



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – A Washington County Justice of the Peace raises concerns over how American Rescue Plan funds are being used in the county.

This year Washington County received $23 million in federal ARP funds. Next year, it will receive another $23 million. It is up to counties to decide how to use all that money.

Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford said from pay increases for county employees to a Washington County jail expansion, American Rescue Plan funds are not going to the best cause.

“I think we should really be hearing from the public, like Benton County has done, and hearing from the public about where the needs are in our county and putting the money there,” she said.

Stafford said pay increases could have come out of a different fund.

“I don’t think it’s a wise decision to be using these one-time funds for permanent pay raises for our county, even though they are very much needed,” she said.

Washington County Attorney Brian Lester said there has been little guidance from the federal government as to how to use these funds, but the county’s use of the money is not outside of any of its boundaries.

“This lines up with the federal guidelines that are provided by the treasury,” he said. “The priorities are county needs and county people employees. That’s our priority.”

Lester also said the funds are being used for Covid-related needs. For example, the jail expansion which now allows for social distancing and quarantine.

“You have to divide everybody up a certain way,” he said. “Then, if there’s a quarantine- that which you already have divided- and the quarantine has to be divided, and our jails not set up for that.”

Stafford said she believes the issue is unnecessary overcrowding in the jail rather than needing a facility expansion. But, when it comes to where the funds should go, she said the county should focus more on its working community members.

“I think we should be focused getting people back to work-getting single mothers back to work who are lacking childcare. getting people broadband access so they can work from home,” she said.

Another example Stafford mentioned was looking at non-profits that have struggled during the pandemic and using some of these funds to help them. Lester said legally, the county has no obligation to do so.

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