Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County Commissioners distribute American Rescue Plan funds to local organizations, approve contract with hospital

Stephens County Commissioners distribute American Rescue Plan funds to local organizations, approve contract with hospital
September 30
11:15 2021

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

The Stephens County Commissioners Court voted on Monday morning to distribute $200,000 of American Rescue Plan funds among four local organizations. Additionally, the commissioners approved an agreement between the County and Stephens Memorial Hospital for healthcare services to inmates in the local jail.

American Rescue Plan

According to the orders to distribute some of the funds, Stephens County received $1,817,236 as part of the American Rescue Plan. The four commissioners and the county judge voted unanimously on Monday to provide a portion of the money to the following organizations:

  • Swenson Memorial Museum — $30,000
  • Breckenridge Library — $30,000
  • Stephens County Humane Society — $50,000
  • Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce — $90,000 in three annual payments of $30,000 each

“During the budget process, when we knew we were going to receive funding from the American (Rescue) Plan, how much it was and the purposes, we contacted all of those entities we’ve historically supported in the past and said, ‘Hey, we’re, we’d like to visit,'” County Judge Michael Roach said. “We looked at some of the funding levels that we had supported in the past and felt that, given the allocations of money we had, we could we could do so much. And so this was an attempt at taking those funds from the American (Rescue) Plan act 2021 and investing it where the federal government said we could, which in, some of these cases, that falls directly within that.”

Roach went on to explain that one of the purposes of the funds is to offset the impact COVID has had on local nonprofits, such as libraries and museums.

“One of the things they said we could do with the money is capture loss revenue for the county, like tax revenue. Well, to do that, it’s a very complicated formula and it’s so subject to auditing and everything else,” he said. “The county is not doing anything. We’re not taking this money, outside of investing in salaries. And there’s a portion of that we’re using for that. The majority of this is going to nonprofits or like things in the county.”

Earlier this summer, the Stephens County Commissioners voted to give some of the funds for use at the Stephens County rodeo grounds and for the local airport.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, to provide funds to American communities struggling in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. After the bill was first introduced in late February, the final version was approved by both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Texas senators — John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — and both of Stephens County’s representatives — August Pfluger and Jodey Arrington — voted against the economic stimulus bill.

The Act specifically established the $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which include $65.1 billion in direct aid from the U.S. Treasury Department to all counties nationwide. Of that total, Texas’ 254 counties will receive about $5.7 billion, according to the Texas Association of Counties.

The TAC website explains that the American Rescue Plan gives counties the flexibility to decide how to use the funds to best meet the needs of their communities. Treasury guidelines allow broad actions by local governments to:

  • Support the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Address the negative economic effects caused by COVID-19 by aiding workers and families, small businesses, nonprofits or industries such as tourism and travel that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
  • Replace lost public sector revenue.
  • Provide premium pay for workers performing essential work during the pandemic. Premium pay is defined as an additional amount up to $13 per hour, with a cap of $25,000 for any individual eligible worker. It can be retroactive.
  • Invest in water and sewer infrastructure.
  • Invest in broadband infrastructure.

Infrastructure improvement is a major focus of the American Rescue Plan. Counties may use their recovery funds for maintenance of infrastructure or pay-as-you-go spending for new infrastructure, within certain parameters. Under the proposed rules, capital improvements relating to infrastructure are limited to water, sewer and broadband internet projects, according to the information on the TAC website.

Roach said the Swenson Museum board specified that the funds they receive will be used to repair the roof on the building of the museum.

The money allocated to the Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce is to promote tourism and economic development for all businesses in the county, including businesses that are not members of the Chamber of Commerce. After the commissioners approved the order to provide the money to the Chamber, the agenda item was re-opened for discussion, and Commissioner Mark McCullough asked if the Chamber could be required to provide quarterly reports. The commissioners then approved a plan to add a memorandum of understanding to the agreement, stating that the Chamber will be required to submit a quarterly financial report detailing how the funds were spent.

The Commissioners Court will continue its disbursement of American Rescue Plan funds at its next meeting.

Inmate Healthcare

Stephens County Sheriff Kevin Roach attended the meeting and presented a health services agreement between the county and Stephens Memorial Hospital.

Stephens County Sheriff Kevin Roach talks to the Commissioners Court about an agreement between the County and Stephens Memorial Hospital for the hospital to provide healthcare services to inmates in the county jail. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

The sheriff said the agreement is basically identical to the contract the county currently has with Southern Health Partners, a Tennessee-based company specializing in healthcare for correctional facilities. He said he anticipates that the change will save the county a huge amount of money but the exact amount is unknown and depending on future circumstances.

“But, we’re definitely not losing anything,” Kevin Roach said. “It’s kind of a win-win for the county. That’s a large amount of money to spend, and it keeps it here locally. And, also, it helps our hospital district. They said they’re not really making any profit off of this, but obviously it’s guaranteeing at least one job, if not more.”

The commissioners voted to approve the agreement. At the next meeting they will vote to end the agreement with Southern Health Partners. The county must give the health care company at least a 60-day notice when terminating the contract.

Other business

The commissioners also accepted the deed without warranty from the State of Texas for the property adjoining the Walker Sayle Unit prison.

In July, County Judge Michael Roach announced that the Texas Legislature had passed Senate Bill 510, which detailed the process through which Stephens County would regain ownership of unused land around the Walker Sayle prison unit. The land was originally purchased in the early 1990s by the County and then given to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the prison, Roach said. At that time, the County officials thought that two prisons would be built in the same vicinity. Since only one unit was built, Roach said, the County asked that the property be returned.

Roach said that the County can use the property to diversify revenue streams by selling the property or using it in some way to generate revenue for the county.

In Monday’s meeting, local citizen Jeorgann Cook addressed the commissioners and questioned why the deed was listed “without warranty.” She expressed concern that no one would want to buy the property from the county without a warranty. A warranty deed attests that the owner actually owns the property free and clear of any outstanding liens, mortgages, or other burdens against it.

The item was temporarily tabled until County Attorney Gary Trammell arrived at the meeting.

When Trammell joined the meeting, the item was reopened, and Trammell explained that the State of Texas doesn’t provide a warranty deed. If the county sells the property, the county and the buyer will enter into contract that will specify which one will pay for title insurance.

Roach and Commissioner Will Warren said that the State of Texas has “first option” to buy back the property if the County decides to sell it.

Additionally, the commissioners took no action on the burn ban, leaving the ban in place. Outdoor burning is currently banned in the unincorporated areas of Stephens County.

Jeorgann Cook asks the Stephens County Commissioners about the lack of a warranty deed on property the County is receiving from the State of Texas. Also pictured is her husband, Chuck Cook. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Stephens County Judge Michael Roach, right, confers with the county attorney about the deed for property that the State of Texas is transferring to Stephens County. Also pictured, from left, are commissioners Mark McCullough and David Fambro. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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