Dear Fayette County Commissioners,
On last Thursday May 6, at least 4 of you were ready to pass a budget based on a presentation from the County Manager that you only received two hours before the Special Called Meeting. The only thing on the agenda was: Discussion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Prior to the presentation of the slides by the County Manager of his proposed budget that he made in conjunction with county staff on how to allocate the funds, you allowed public comment. Those making comments had to do so without first seeing the presentation. It was like shooting in the dark.
If not for Commissioner Rousseau asking to table any vote until he had adequate time to review the 60- page slide presentation, you were prepared to vote on this proposed budget.
I called the county clerk on May 5 to get the agenda and any supporting documents. I was told that the agenda was online and that the County Manager would be making a slide presentation that she had not received at the time of my call.
On page 5 of the slide presentation there were some guiding principles from the GFCA that said: “Adequate time should be taken to carefully consider all alternatives for the prudent use of ARPA funding prior to committing the resources to ensure the best use of the temporary funding.”
I reviewed your normal budgeting process prior to passing your annual budget:
• Normally you have a board retreat; The May 6 presentation was labeled as a board retreat.
• You publish the proposed budget, which was available at your website after the May 6 meeting
• You publish at least two Public Hearing dates in the local newspapers and on the County website
• You hold the Public Hearings
It doesn’t appear that they are using such a process for these unexpected funds coming into the county.
Funds from the American Rescue Plan have 4 distinct ways it can be spent, your proposed budget includes spending 50% of the $22 million on Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for the county water system, and $6 million on building a new health center. However, there was no money allocated for one of the four allowable approved expenditures of the allotment of funds:
“(A) to respond to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19) or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality;
It appears all the recommendations for the budget expenditures were done within the county staff. Because this is a one-time funding source to help with some of the economic impact as it relates to COVID-19 there should be public engagement about what that economic impact was to our county. Has there been any assessment about what that economic impact has been?
During the last Covid Relief Package signed into law by President Trump, many of my counterparts throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area and across the state used those funds to help address the impact of the pandemic on human service delivery channels. Fayette County used their fund allotment for salaries and benefits for first responders in the county.
When I spoke with Mr. Rapson as to why it didn’t help human services I was told there was no line-item in the budget to do so and that if funds were given to human services needs and they were misspent, the county would be on the hook for repaying the funds to the federal government.
He said you as Commissioners voted to take a 100% no risk policy on the use of funds. Also, your county manager told me that you voted several years ago not to give any funds to nonprofits. He said he could not recommend spending these new federal funds for which there was no budget line item.
In this new funding allocation helping human services organizations is allowable. However, some of you stated categorically in the May 6 meeting that you would not support funding for nonprofit human service organizations that have been impacted economically by the pandemic.
Your decision taken two years ago negates the fact that we are experiencing something that none of us has experienced in our lifetime, a pandemic. The pandemic has had a very economically disabling effect.
Of course, you have the votes to pass this proposed budget proposal tomorrow if you so choose. My question is, do you think it is prudent to do so when your own County Manager is still seeking guidance to see if everything proposed will be allowable? He stated in his presentation that there were some unknowns in slides 6-13.
I truly believe to pass this proposed budget without Public Hearings and with many unknowns unanswered would be an egregious miscarriage of your duty of care as Commissioners. I am imploring you to take adequate time to carefully consider all alternatives for the prudent use of ARPA funding prior to committing the resources to ensure the best use of the temporary funding. I believe there should be public input beyond what is being proposed by the County Manager and his staff.
Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Dawn C. Oparah
Executive Director for Fayette FACTOR