Setting the county budget is the most important thing the Quorum Court does. COVID-19 has created new challenges and opportunities for our revenue and spending.
Using COVID-19 Money for Community Relief
So far, Washington County has received from the federal government:
- $46 Million from the American Rescue Plan Act (2021 & 2022)
- $12 Million in Emergency Rental Assistance (January 2021, July 2021 & February 2022)
- $4.5 Million from the CARES Act (November 2020)
I believe we should use this federal money the way it was intended - to invest in the community.
The American Rescue Plan Act
Federal rules explicitly forbid the county from using COVID relief money on jail expansion. Those Treasury Department rules were put in place after Alabama tried to use its COVID relief funds for new prisons. Alabama is now using a less restricted funding source. Despite the ban, some JPs say they are still determined to violate federal rules and spend nearly all of this year's American Rescue Plan money to expand our jail. That puts the county at grave financial risk of repaying tens of millions of dollars to the feds down the road. Washington County needs to either find a different funding source (like Benton County is doing), do something less expensive, or move forward with long-delayed reforms. But gambling with your tax dollars like this is totally irresponsible.
Other counties across the nation are using their ARPA funds on things like rural broadband, job training, affordable housing, and supporting small businesses. Learn more from the National Association of Counties about how other counties are using ARPA funds to invest in their communities.
The CARES Act
The majority of JPs have also refused to use the CARES Act money to benefit the community. In early 2021, they shot down a proposal to use it for food relief, homelessness and small business assistance. A few months later, they voted to freeze the vast majority of it - $3 Million - in the General Fund Reserve. It's now mixed in with the rest of the county's money where its future spending can't be tracked.
Emergency Rental Assistance
In late January 2022, the county attorney revealed to JPs that the Emergency Rental Assistance program had run out of money before being replenished. I brought forward an ordinance to fill this gap by using about $1.2 Million in American Rescue Plan funds. That way, families facing a health crisis didn't have to worry about losing their homes. Unfortunately, once again, the Republican majority voted against using COVID relief funds to help the community.
There are so many important things we can do with these dollars to help recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. New and expanded affordable childcare, food relief, expanded broadband access in rural areas, affordable housing, and diversionary programs proven to safely relieve our overcrowded jail. These are just a few of the impactful ways these millions of dollars can be used.
Valuing Our Workforce
Meanwhile, dozens of county employees still make under $15 per hour. In 2021, we adjusted our employees' pay grades for the first time since 2016. But they're still behind the curve compared to similar jobs in our area in the private sector. We've seen over and over again how this is leading to a high turnover rate. We are losing valuable people. This has a negative impact on everything from the roads to the court system.
While this is going on, Republicans on the Quorum Court have voted to give massive raises to political cronies, including some who were already among the highest-paid people in the county. The folks making six figures including the County Attorney, who serves double duty as partisan head of the Washington County Republican Party. That has led some to express concerns about conflicts of interest.
I believe we should take care of our lowest-paid county employees first. Our rank and file workers deserve to be paid a decent wage for their hard work.
Contact All JPs
Have an issue or concern? You can send an email to all 15 Washington County JPs at once by clicking the handy button below: