Court reviews ARPA money

Grantworks rep to deliver Austin firm’s recommendations

[email protected]

Ector County commissioners will hold a special 10:30 a.m. Wednesday meeting to consider their disbursements of $16 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and hear County Elections Administrator Lisa Sertuche’s presentation on canvassing votes from the May 7 state constitutional amendments election.

The court has hired an Austin consultancy firm, Grantworks, to review the various requests, including one for $7 million from Medical Center Hospital for staffing and supplies, and the county’s own needs and a Grantworks representative will discuss those recommendations concerning the federal funds, said Precinct 4 Commissioner Armando Rodriguez Monday. The county is scheduled to get another $16 million in ARPA money from the U.S. Treasury Department this summer.

“They will tell us what can be used and what cannot and how to go about it,” Rodriguez said.

Dustin Fawcett, GOP nominee for Ector County Judge, said he’s glad to hear that the county has decided to meet on the American Rescue Plan.

“This has been, in my opinion, long overdue, but it’s better late than never. I’m glad that we’re going to be discussing the issues and how to properly allocate the funding. The Commissioners’ Court has so far reimbursed the county $10 million, which is the maximum allowable according to the Treasury for counties of our size. Then about $1 million has been used for IT improvements in the courthouse for the District Judges, so right now we’ve got about $21 million left to allocate and so the meeting on Wednesday it has come up. I’m glad to hear it’s happening,” Fawcett said.

He said he was a “little bit” concerned that is the first public workshop they’ve had to discuss ARPA.

“So I really think we need to be looking at all the different possibilities of allocating funds. I do think that water infrastructure should be looked at and we should allocate funding toward ECUD, but we should also be looking at the other water district, which is the Gardendale water district up there in Gardendale because they have needs also. I believe they’ll be putting in a request, but as far as I’m concerned I think when it comes to allocating the money we need to be judicious about it, especially with ECUD. I think everybody agrees there’s a need, but I think before we address that need we need to have that taxing entity, which it is a taxing entity, on ECUD residents we need to see their financials for the past several years and also I think we need to make sure that we have an external audit done. That way we do our due diligence in making sure that all the money that has been collected by ECUD has been spent on proper projects, has been allocated properly and has been done according to their master plans that way we feel confident giving any bulk sum of money to that entity, which I believe is the same way we should handle any of the ARPA allocations …,” Fawcett added.

He said the county needs to be judicious about any entity that they give the funds to.

“And we need to make sure that we have thorough discussions about spending this money with both the public and the commissioners and the different stakeholders,” Fawcett said.

He added that he believes the first round of funds has to be spent by 2024 and then the money that arrives here in the next few weeks needs to be spent by 2025 or ‘26.

“So we’re not in any rush and these are long-term projects, and because we’re not in any rush and these are long-term projects, I believe that the commissioners really need to think these things (through); discuss these things thoroughly and to truly see these funds as investment opportunities in the future, not just expenditures,” Fawcett said.

Medical Center Hospital had come before the commissioners and the City Council discussing a plan of how if the city or the county were to use the ARPA funds and give the funds to the hospital, the hospital could use those funds then seek reimbursement from FEMA. FEMA would then reimburse the hospital and the hospital would then reimburse the city or county, he said.

“The city allocated $3 million towards MCH and $1 million toward ORMC. MCH is in the final stages of receiving that check back from FEMA for that $3 million they used and will soon be giving that $3 million back to the city exactly as they said they would do,” Fawcett said.

He said the hospital asked for $7 million in 2021 and had the county gone forward and given the hospital $7 million, they would be receiving a check back for that money.

“What this revenue would go toward, and I want to be clear, it’s not just going to go … into their general fund. This money will specifically be used to counteract the contract labor spike that the hospital had, which was to the tune of $20 million year to date that Medical Center hospital has had to incur through contract labor” because of the huge need for nurses during COVID and those who left to become travel nurses.

“That money that i’m talking about would specifically go to pay back the hospital for that large expense that they incurred due to contract labor which is to the tune of $20 million,” Fawcett said.

He added that he wants transparency about who the funds are given to and what they spend it on.

Healthcare, water and broadband are the three major areas that counties have spent these funds on, he said.

Fawcett said he will attend the meeting Wednesday. He doesn’t plan on speaking, but he plans to listen.

“… I think that I originally had worries because of the way the agenda item was listed and it says they can act vs. it being purely a workshop … That’s my biggest worry is that we rush into this vs. having overall discussions. Lubbock County to date has had, I think, at least 16 or 17 workshops for ARPA,” Fawcett said.

“I would like to see us at least trend in that direction and have these workshops where the community puts out input about what they’d like to see. I think folks would like to see broadband. I think folks would like to see water in West Odessa … But Ector County also entails the City of Odessa. They are not mutually exclusive. They are tied together and we need to understand also that the hospital benefits all citizens of Ector County, even … the entire Permian Basin, so I think those are valid discussions,” Fawcett added.

In other business, the commissioners will consider an offer to restore the historic Henderson House at 915 N. Alleghaney Ave. and review a Precinct 4 tax abatement application from the GCC Permian Co., a cement company that wants to expand.