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Washington County passes resolution to use ARPA funds for jail maintenance

Washington County Sheriff-Elect Jay Cantrell says $600,000 would be used to upgrade the jail's 185 cameras and $150,000 would be used for H-VAC upgrades.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — On Monday, Nov. 28, a request to give $750,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the Washington County Jail was met with some push back during the Washington County Quorum Court County Services Committee meeting.

"It shouldn't come from ARPA money, it needs to come from the county revenue," said Beth Coger with the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition. "We're setting on millions of dollars."

Coger says maintenance is needed at the jail but doesn't think it qualifies for ARPA funding. The proposed money would go towards upgrading the H-VAC system and cameras at the jail.

"They're at the end of life," said Washington County Sheriff-Elect Jay Cantrell speaking about the jails camera. "They'll quit being serviced and no parts would be available after June of 2023."

Cantrell argues the cameras will help with covid-19 contact tracing, and providing clearer video as well as upgraded surveillance storage - keeping videos up to 3 years.

"And to me this seems like routine maintenance to keep up the AC and camera equipment," said Dina Nash during public comment. "Most people would think that is routine maintenance in a jail. That is not the purpose of the ARPA funds. Never was, never will be."

Those on the committee weren't 100% sure the funding qualified under ARPA either.

"I would really like to know if we really, really think that it's eligible before we pass this on," asked District 11 Washington County Justice of the Peace Suki Highers

"Our interpretation from the sheriffs office is that it is eligible," Cantrell said in response. "But that's just a bunch of cops looking at it, trying to figure out a way to upgrade this equipment that's needed to be replaced."

"I feel it's very bad practice and it's not wise to vote on something because you don't know if it's going to be approved," Coger said during public comment. "You don't know if it's legal. But hey, we might could figure that out later."

However, the $750,000 resolution passed.

Cantrell says $600,000 would be used to upgrade the jail's 185 cameras and the remaining $150,000 would be used for H-VAC upgrades.

"We have a duty to protect and a duty to take care of the people in our custody," Cantrell said. "So we think this is a needed expense to do that efferently."

He also says this vote had nothing to do with sale-tax vote decided by voters as they've been planning this since September. 

The full quorum court is expected to vote on the resolution December 15.

Along with the ARPA vote, the County Services Committee once again voted to table a resolution to ask state lawmakers to support exceptions to the Arkansas' trigger law in rape and incest.

Evelyn Rios Stafford, the Justice of the Peace who placed the resolution on the agenda, tabled it.

This comes after other committee members tabled the item at the last meeting before it was even introduced.

Previously, Rios Stafford cited her fellow committee members tabled the resolution because of how close it was to the election.

"I feel because the legislature is not in session we may as well put it off until the legislature is back in session," said District 12 JP Evelyn Rios Stafford. "We can hopefully send this to the new legislator starting next year." 

The resolution is set to be voted on in January at the County Services Committee's meeting.

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