By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Carter County Fiscal Court, meeting in special session last Thursday, moved to accept a number of bids for materials and hauling, approve food service and commissary bids for the jail, and to table discussion on medical service bids for the jail until they can discuss them further. They also moved to approve transfers of funds in anticipation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) payments – however the largest reimbursement the county is waiting on, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is still outstanding, Judge Executive Mike Malone explained.
The amount to still be reimbursed by FEMA comes to nearly $3 million. The exact total of outstanding funds was unavailable at press time, but the court moved to take out a $5 million credit line to cover cleanup costs last year. They moved to take out that credit line, noting they only needed to pay back what they used pay costs covered by FEMA, after Malone suggested a more modest $1.5 million credit line to cover short-term costs.
Malone has said in the past that the payment delays are related in part to state and federal bureaucratic bottlenecks – funds must be released by the federal government to the state, and then from the state to local communities, instead of a direct release to communities – and in part due to the documentation requirements of FEMA, which take significant time for communities to compile and then for FEMA to review.
Now the county is waiting for the release of promised ARPA funds, much of which has already been earmarked for various departments, but experiencing similar delays. While not as significant as the FEMA delays, they are holding up payments and projects the county would like to proceed with. Instead of taking out another loan, though, they’re taking a different track to maintain progress on those payments – they’re transferring funds from other areas to cover the costs.
Carter County Treasurer Beth Justice explained to fiscal court that the county’s advisors at Compass Capital had identified funds that could be transferred now, in anticipation of the future ARPA payments. Those transfers would be covered by the future ARPA payments, and the details represented in the county’s regular audit, she explained.
The court moved to approve a motion for an ARPA fiscal fund transfer.
Judge executive Mike Malone said while most of the ARPA funds have already been earmarked for various departmental expenses, he didn’t yet have a comprehensive list of those earmarks. Malone’s office was also unavailable to answer questions about the total amount of funds transferred in the ARPA fiscal fund transfer, or the total amounts expected from ARPA, due to office closures for the Fourth of July holiday.
In other action the county moved to accept all bids for labor and materials, with Malone noting once more that the lowest price on material doesn’t always equal the lowest cost on a project once transport costs are figured in.
Malone also noted the importance of including all information requested in a bid, as well as any additional information that may be helpful, along with detailed breakdowns of costs. Not only does this help fiscal court and the road department when making decisions on individual projects, it can also keep a bid from being rejected.
Malone noted one instance where a bid was rejected as too high because it didn’t include the costs for oil in a mixture. That bid was rejected because it didn’t include the oil costs as part of the itemized breakdown, and it wasn’t stated that oil costs were included. If it had been, Malone said, it might have made a difference. But the bidder told Malone – after the bid was rejected – he assumed it was “understood” that oil costs were included in his paving bid.
In jail bids, the court moved to approve jailer RW Boggs’ recommendations to stay with Kellwell Food Service for meal service at the detention center, and with Kellwell Commissary for commissary service.
Boggs noted that food service costs did increase in the new contract, by 1.5 cents per meal. But, he said, the new contract also adds an extra 400 calories of food to each meal.
On the commissary he noted that the jail could have increased their profits on commissary sales “by a couple thousand dollars a year, possibly” by going with a different provider. But, he said, such a move would significantly increase the costs for families who are putting money on their loved ones’ commissary accounts, and limit how far those funds go for inmates. Boggs said he didn’t feel the potential increase in profit was significant enough to warrant the potentially negative financial impact on those with incarcerated family and friends.
But while he said he wants to keep commissary costs lower for families if possible, he actively discourages them from putting money on commissary accounts.
“There’s no need for commissary,” he said. “They are all fed with the food service contract, and they have all their needs met. The commissary is just extra.”
Boggs asked the court to table action on the medical bids until he can look at them further. He told court he had received four bids, and narrowed it down to two. However one of those bids almost looked “too good to be true,” he told the court. He said he was requesting more detailed information on the two best bids, from Fast Access Correctional Health and Southern Health Partners, to make a more informed decision. He requested the court to table any action until he could present those finding to the court, with the court voting “aye” on the motion to table.
The court also moved to solicit bids on a new truck for the Emergency Management department, approved transfers, and approved payment of claims, and to accept the Board of Health tax rate. That rate will stay at six cents per $100, or the same rate as the previous year. The Board of Health have their own taxing district, and the court has no say over the tax rates they set.
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