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Newton board OKs consultant to monitor ARPA spending
Required to check future spending, review past awards of federal COVID relief money
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton commissioners voted Tuesday to hire a consultant to help the county government make sure it is complying with federal regulations on the federal COVID-relief program funded by the Americans Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Commissioners voted 3-1 to hire the consultant, Iparametrics LLC, at a cost not to exceed $420,000 for oversight of future expenditures and compliance by past awards of federal ARPA funds designed to assist individuals and organizations harmed financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding will come from the county's share of ARPA funds.

Action on the hiring had been delayed for weeks because some commissioners wanted more information on the need for ARPA oversight by an outside agency.

County attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said hiring a consultant experienced in reviewing how local governments conform to federal spending guidelines was better than county government staff members doing the same work for which they have no experience.

He said he had "urged" commissioners not to award the ARPA funds earlier this year to local agencies without a formal review of the funding being done beforehand.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson told Jaugstetter he did not know "what's so complicated" about using ARPA funds to pay for such items as boxes of food distributed from Nelson Heights Community Center.

He said the food was needed by area residents suffering from food insecurity.

"This is one of those times when we need a second opinion," Henderson said.

Commissioner Alana Sanders referred to comments from Cynthia Butler during the meeting's Citizen Comments period. Butler said she had made an open records request and found Iparametrics was not the low bidder for the consultant work. 

Sanders also said she wondered why the county needed a consultant when governments in other areas of the country had utilized their funds without one.

Interim County Manager Jarvis Sims said many communities used their ARPA funds to install infrastructure rather than giving it to local public assistance agencies.

He said he did not know why other area governments were not using such third-party consultants to verify they were using the funds in accordance with federal guidelines.

Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said the county does not always hire lowest bidders for work. He said hiring a third-party reviewer of how funds are used "takes the politics" out of the selection process for funding.

He also noted other governments in Metro Atlanta had "got in trouble" in recent decades through inappropriate use of federal funding they were given and were forced to return some of the funding.

In other action at the Tuesday night meeting, the Board of Commissioners approved Chairman Marcello Banes' request for the Newton County government to pay for audits of Washington Street Community Center, Nelson Heights Community Center and the McIntosh Trail pre-kindergarten program.

The Board of Commissioners voted earlier this year to require the nonprofits the county is funding from its annual budget to submit formal audits of their operations.