Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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County to hold public forum next month on distribution of pandemic relief funds

Alamance County’s board of commissioners has decided to hold a public forum next month to let area residents weigh in on the distribution of millions of dollars in pandemic relief funds that the county has received under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which Congress adopted in March.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the board of commissioners voted to hold this public input session at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 10 in the main courtroom of Alamance County’s historic courthouse. On the docket that evening will be the county’s plans to allocate the roughly $26.3 million that it still has remaining from its original pandemic relief allocation of over $32.8 million.

The commissioners unanimously agreed to conduct this forum on Monday even after they learned that they technically aren’t obligated to solicit public input about the distribution of these funds.

According to Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood, the federal government will only require such input within jurisdictions of 250,000 or more. With a population of about 170,000, Alamance County is comfortably under this threshold, based on the

“I think there could be ideas that bubble up that may not otherwise come to us. We may find that there are ideas where we can leverage county monies with other monies increase the whole pot. And it’s just good government.” – County commissioner Craig Turner

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latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, a measure of public input still seemed prudent to commissioner Craig Turner, who called on his colleagues to gauge the pulse of their constituents before divvying up the rest of the county’s largesse.

“I think there could be ideas that bubble up that may not otherwise come to us,” he told the rest of the county’s governing board. “We may find that there are ideas where we can leverage county monies with other monies increase the whole pot. And it’s just good government.”

Turner went on to recall a proposal that he’d previously floated for a committee to vet proposed allocations on behalf of the commissioners. He conceded that this idea has fallen flat with the rest of the board, which has preferred that “the commissioners have their hands on the wheel.” To this end, he proceeded to suggest a three-phase plan to solicit public input without ceding any of the board’s authority to some other body.

Turner’s plan called for the commissioners to, first, solicit feedback from the general public through surveys or hearings. The county could then invite local nonprofits and other “aggregators of ideas” to pitch concepts directly to the commissioners, who Turner suggested could follow up with the groups whose ideas showed the most promise and have them submit more detailed proposals for consideration.

“I think that is a process which has merit,” the commissioner said. “The commissioners don’t lose control of the process, and it involves as many people as want to be involved.”
Turner’s multi-layered plan to distribute the funds ultimately struck some of his fellow commissioners as overly complicated.

“The only thing I’m concerned about in the three-tiered process that you have is not bogging down the process,” commissioner Bill Lashley said of his colleague’s proposal.

“I agree,” added John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, “that it needs to be a quicker application.”

The desire to expedite the distribution of these funds also received some support from Anthony Pierce of Haw River, who had waged an unsuccessful campaign for the board of commissioners in 2020. During a public comment period that kicked off Monday night’s meeting, Pierce urged the board’s current members not to dither too long over the proposed allocations.

“I think there’s a lot of citizens, departments, and community resources that could utilize these funds now,” Pierce, a Democrat, said to the county’s all-Republican governing board, “and I think that now would be a good time to use it instead of waiting and extending it over the three year period that we’re allowed.”

Paisley, for his part, conceded that he saw some merit to Turner’s insistence on public input. He consequently proposed that the commissioners hold a public forum devoted to ARP allocations, and he suggested the county’s historic courthouse as a potential venue for the event.

Turner ultimately got on board with this proposal in order to expedite the board’s consideration of the pandemic relief funds.

“I think it makes sense just to start,” he said before he made a motion in favor of the chairman’s recommendation, which went on to pass in a vote of 5-to-0.

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