WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is one step closer to getting millions of dollars towards a jail expansion.

After a quick voice vote, the Quorum Court Jails/Law Enforcement/Courts Committee passed an ordinance moving more than $8.8 million in American Rescue Plan Funds to the American Rescue Budget for 2023. Sheriff Tim Helder said the ultimate plan is to use that funding for the construction of a new jail.

Washington County voters spoke during the midterm election and they did not approve a .25% sales and use tax increase intended for the jail expansion. More than 58% of voters voted against it.

During Monday’s committee meeting, Justice of the Peace Bill Ussery said he felt most people were voting against a tax increase, not against the jail expansion.

All the public comment made was against putting these ARPA dollars towards a jail expansion. Several made a point of saying their vote was against the jail expansion specifically.

Several people advocated for putting ARPA money towards improving pre-trial services. Other people had concerns about the treasury department ruling that it did not consider prison construction as an okay use of COVID-19 relief money.

Sheriff Helder said WCSO does not have a preference for where the money comes from to build this expansion, however, he feels it would fit the criteria to use ARPA money to help with COVID mitigation in the jail.

“We know that we need an expansion of our medical services we know that we need to have separation at the intake and release areas,” he said. “We know that we fell woefully short in our warehousing because of shortages and not able not having the space to stockpile some critical items that we needed going through a pandemic. Also included in this is about 230 beds or so in two different buildings which creates the ability to sprawl creates the ability to quarantine.”

Sarah Moore with Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition said they held a community meeting last week to discuss creative solutions since the jail expansion sales tax failed in the midterm.

“There were great solutions brought forward things like addressing affordable housing, things like helping to make sure their designated treatment dollars versus recovery dollars in our community, making sure that we’re addressing mental health in a community-focused way,” she said. “All of these are things that are allowable uses under the American Rescue Plan monies.”

According to a report shared at Monday’s meeting, the jail currently has five positive cases with 85 exposures. There are also more than 100 men in the jail who are sleeping on the floor.

The ordinance still has some hoops to jump through. It now heads to the Quorum Court Budget and Finance Committee which will vote on this at its meeting on Tuesday, December 6th at 6 p.m.