Commissioners approve ARPA’s spending plans; discuss affordable housing, criminal justice reform – THE RANT

By Richard Sullins | [email protected]

Now that Lee County has received all federal COVID relief funds allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), county commissioners have approved the distribution of nearly all of the remaining proceeds.

With about $4.1 million left to spend from the initial allocation of just under $12 million, commissioners approved a list of 11 items totaling $1,281,000. The deadline to spend all ARPA funds is December 31, 2026.

Among the items approved on Monday were:
*$200,000 for a playground in Temple Park,
*$210,000 for a shelter with toilets in Temple Park,
* $425,000 for sports lighting at OT Sloan Park (T-ball, tennis and pickleball),
*$58,000 to create a training room for employees,
*$4,000 for basic needs,
*$3,000 for safe sleep,
* $3,000 for a safe trip,
* $12,000 for a secure space,
*$50,000 for rental and utility assistance for seniors,
*$96,000 for Lucas CPR devices,
*$220,000 for staff retention,

The Basic Needs Program assists children who are in the care of Lee County DSS by providing $100 per year for each child to purchase clothing or other necessities. The Safe Sleep initiative provides portable beds to families concerned with child welfare who do not have safe beds.

Car seats are provided to families involved in child protection who cannot afford them through Safe Travel, and child safety locks for doors, windows, drawers, sockets , gun cabinets and medicine are made available through the Safe Space initiative.

Earlier this year, the county allocated funds for a number of other big ticket items, including:

*2 million dollars for a new multi-purpose meeting room,
* $576,000 for HVAC repairs and upgrades at the Bob Hales Center,
*$315,000 for a shelter project with Outreach Ministries,
* $159,000 for a full body scanner for the county jail,
*$850,000 for affordable housing projects in partnership with Brick Capital

The US Treasury Department also notified Sanford and Broadway last summer that they would receive ARPA stipends. Sanford’s award was $9,588,013 and Broadway’s was $409,844.

County staff also shared another category of projects labeled simply as “future” that aren’t ready to move, usually because a quote or offer hasn’t officially been received. Among these items are $250,000 for an urgent repair program; $250,000 for a bookmobile; $225,000 for a playground at OT Sloan Park; and $155,475 to address stormwater runoff issues along the Kiwanis Family Park walking trails and creek.

CDBG hearing for housing assistance

Commissioners held the first of two required public hearings on a proposed Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application under North Carolina’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

County staff, the Triangle J Council of Governments and the Brick Capital Community Development Corporation are working together on the application that could provide up to $950,000 in funding for low-to-moderate income family housing.

This subdivision, which will be located just off Washington Avenue, will consist of 45 single-family lots and a 16-unit apartment complex.

If approved, these grant funds would pay for site infrastructure costs, which include water and sewer lines, roads, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and water control. erosion. The hope is to have all infrastructure funding in place by the end of 2022 so clearing and grading can begin in early 2023, followed by construction of individual units.

Kerry Bashaw, executive director of Brick Capital, said the Washington Avenue project will include “workforce housing,” meaning it will provide housing for low-to-middle-income public servants like teachers, the police and firefighters who found themselves shut out of the mainstream. housing market by causing house prices to skyrocket.

“It’s for those who don’t have a chance in the open market based on the current housing market situation,” he said.

Bashaw said that “without the support of state dollars, workforce housing will not be possible for many families. Interest rates have doubled in the past six months, and we’re here to give working-class families a shot at home ownership.

John Kirkman, Democratic candidate for county commissioner of District 2, endorsed the bid.

“We desperately need more affordable housing. Let’s do the right thing here,” he said.

The housing crisis is real in Sanford. Kelley Dubois of Adcock Real Estate Services told a group of about 250 business leaders at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center Thursday that the cost of building a new home for first-time buyers is particularly painful.

“Four years ago, the average home built in Lee or Harnett counties cost around $90 a square foot. Now I would be hard-pressed to find a home in either county for less than $150 a square foot,” she said.

Criminal justice reforms needed

Commission Chairman Kirk Smith, a Republican, asked commissioners to help shape legislative goals that could be championed by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners ahead of the 2023 “long session.” of the state legislature.

Republican Commissioner Bill Carver recommended the association push for a measure that would require at least one public defender in each of the state’s 100 counties. Only 38 counties in the state have a dedicated public defender to handle the cases of those who cannot afford an attorney.

Carver said the current system places an economic burden on lawyers who are not compensated for providing these services.

“But the very way this process works leaves people in jail because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer,” he said.

Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives Sr. agreed that remedying this situation is a moral imperative.

“We have people who have been locked up in this county jail for six years without their cases going to trial because they can’t afford legal representation. Now that’s just not fair,” he said.

County Executive Dr John Crumpton said either the number of public defenders should be increased or the amounts paid to public defenders should be increased.

Both are paid by the state or federal government, but court-appointed attorneys are private attorneys appointed by the court as needed and paid by the hour. This compensation is now around $65 per hour, while they incur an average cost of $54 per hour. A good private attorney can expect to earn at least $200 an hour if they don’t participate in the duty counsel program. On the other side of the coin, public defenders are usually salaried employees who only work for the county, state, or federal government.

Crumpton said this problem is due to the increasing prison population in almost every county in the state “and their cases are going on all the time, and that’s how you end up having someone in jail. for six years. All these continuations only save the system.

Crumpton said he hopes that by drawing attention to the increase in prison occupancy, a critical mass will be achieved that will cause state lawmakers to take notice.

“Six years doesn’t seem like a quick trial to me, under the Constitution,” he added.

Democratic Commissioner Cameron Sharpe said Lee County Jail now houses between 20 and 30 people charged with murder and until the state takes steps to remove some of the bottlenecks in the system, the costs for the county to continue to house and feed these people will continue to eat away at its budget.