By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Commissioners hold lengthy debate over ARPA funds
boc 2-22-24

NEWTON COUNTY – During the Feb. 20 Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting, board members debated for nearly an hour over the usage of ARPA funds.

The debate primarily stemmed from the senior home repair program – which has been met with mixed results within the community – as well as the amount that is being paid for the iParametrics consulting group that is assisting the county. 

Kennedy Shannon, an attorney with the iParametrics consulting group, was at the meeting to provide an update on where the ARPA process is currently at.

Senior home repair program funds ‘exhausted’

Shannon began by providing the latest update on the senior home repair program, which has now officially run out of available funds.

“As of Friday of last week, we have exhausted all of our funding,” Shannon said.

Shannon stated that with the program, the ARPA funds helped 275 households with an average grant of over $17,000.

Of that 275, 122 projects are fully completed. Thirty-nine projects are currently waiting on an inspection for completion and 153 projects are “still in progress.”

A total of 185 applications were denied. According to Shannon, these were individuals that were deemed to be over the 50 percent target income area. Around 385 applications are still listed at pending. 

But those who are still in the application process received some bad news about where they may stand.

“As of now – because we are out of money – those 385 individuals will receive a notice that we have run out of funding,” Shannon said. “We kinda knew this going in, just the sheer number of applications that we had were well over 800 applications. There was never enough funding to fund all of those applications.”

Despite this, Shannon spoke positively about how the process went, stating that it was “amazing” to be able to fund an average of $17,000 per grant.

As far as what is left, Shannon said that there is $100,000 in reserve funds that will be used to pay for projects that may run over the $30,000 per project cap. This is also done to prevent any additional costs to be paid for by the senior citizens.

Once all the projects are closed out, any remaining money will revert back to Newton County – though Shannon said it is not likely that this will occur.

Overall, a total of $4,819,782.52 has been spent – excluding the $100,000 in reserve funding that is expected to be used up, too. The remainder of the $5 million allocation went to Family Connect to purchase laptop and technology resources that were outside of iParametrics’ consulting services.

A final report with the full list of projects and monetary amounts will be provided once all projects are closed out.

Commissioners debate over mental health money allocations; ARPA funds

District 3 commissioner Alana Sanders had questions about $100,000 - $200,000 that was allocated to mental health resources, asking for updates on that matter. 

Shannon said the latest movement on that front would be contacting the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) and seeking ways to provide mental health resources and training to officers and to possibly provide social workers to assist with mental health related calls.

District 2 commissioner Demond Mason wanted to know the monetary amount allocated to View Point Health stating that this was allocated for mental health resources.

“To my understanding, I thought that the money we gave to ViewPoint health was mental health- related,” Mason said. “I don’t ever recall being a separate mental health budget or line item.”

Shannon clarified that the line item she recalled was the aforementioned collaboration with the police that was discussed minutes prior.

Sanders stated that the board voted on this topic in a previous meeting and that a non-profit organization would work with the NCSO.

Mason then continued his point from earlier, stating that as of July 20, 2023, that three line items – including the law enforcement mental health program – never had funds allocated for those, despite a vote being made.

“I wanted to put that on the record that yes we may have said that was a line item we wanted to address, but as of July 20, 2023, there was no funds that was allocated towards that particular program,” Mason said. “As a matter of fact, this spreadsheet says that ViewPoint mental health received $400,000. That is kind of what we utilized to help address that mental health concern here in Newton County.”

Things began to get a bit contentious after Sanders disagreed with Mason’s previous comment.

“Commissioner Mason, if you don’t want to support mental health and the sheriff’s office, you don’t have to. It’s not that serious,” Sanders said. “View Point Health is an actual facility and if you actually go to View Point Health it doesn’t support all age limits. It also does not support our sheriffs and deputies and fight and have training for our mental illness constituents. So that's what it’s set for.”

Before Mason could respond, chairman Marcello Banes stated that he is on the board for ViewPoint Health and that the group does serve people of all ages and helps people that cannot afford insurance.

Mason responded by stating the previous comments made about him were untrue and that it was a “negative narrative.”

“I want it to be put out there that I highly support mental health,” Mason said. “As a matter of fact the mental health initiative that I’m currently working on will address those individuals in the jail. It will also address those children that are in our school system, that are unsheltered, that have mental health concerns. It will address all of those mental health concerns that we need.”

Additionally, the district 2 representative said that throughout this whole process that ARPA is not the “solve all, end all” and that the county will continue to look for other grant and funding options to meet the needs of the citizens of Newton County.

“Just because we don’t have funds to do everything in the entire county, does not mean that we will never get funds from anywhere else,” Mason said.

District 4 commissioner J.C. Henderson took the floor, expressing his deepest apologies to how he said the seniors have been treated through this whole process.

“To our seniors… I want to apologize personally to you, because I think we should’ve did better by our seniors,” Henderson said.

Mason was quick to remind the board that the $5 million allocated to the senior home repair program was 25 percent of the entire ARPA fund received, which was far more than anything else the funds were used for.

“We put the most of the ARPA funds in that specific line item more than any other program,” Mason said. “We as a board saw that as a priority and we care about our seniors and we wanted to do more and we wish we could’ve done more.”

Board agrees to pay iParametrics over $1 million in split vote

After 40 minutes were spent over discussion of funds, the conversation moved to how much would be paid to iParametrics.

County attorney Patrick Jaugstetter explained to the board that the fee to iParametrics was set at 10 percent of all funds that are administered by the consulting group. Because the senior home repair program was allocated up to $5 million, the payment number needed to be amended, too.

“Each time you assign funds to programs administered by iParametrics you have to amend that not-to-exceed number. We’ve not done that,” Jaugstetter said.

The new not-to-exceed number is now $1,040,000.

This did not seem to go over well with Sanders, as she stated that the previous amount of $800,000 was the “final amount” that was to be paid to iParametrics.

Kennedy then returned to the podium to explain why the fee changed.

“We did a total of $10 million in direct programming, so that 10 percent fee is that number. What we didn’t account for – if you recall – first you [the board] put $1 million in senior home repair, then you put $2 million in senior home repair and then the last meeting you put $5 million in senior home repair. Our fee did not keep up with you continuing to add those millions of dollars to the senior home repair. So this is the final one.”

Sanders said that the cap change was not agreed upon whenever they first decided to move forward with this consulting firm.

“I asked that question from day one: Was the $500,000 the cap? I was told yes. Then we came back again and we increased it to $800,000. Now we’re at $1 million, when you had those different consultants that submitted for that bid at this price, and we’re doing multiple change orders after change orders,” Sanders said.

The vote to approve the monetary adjustment amendment was approved 3-2 with Sanders and Henderson opposing.