Citizens Request Funds From County Through American Rescue Plan

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BY HANNAH LESTER
HLESTER@OPELIKAOBSERVER.COM 

Citizen requests continue as Lee County decides how to spend $32 million from the American Rescue Plan.

Rev. Joshua Lewis asked the Lee County Commission Monday night to consider spending the funding in underserved and Black communities. Additionally, he asked for his community to have a seat at the table when it comes to the allocation discussions.

Lewis cited Executive Order 13985, which was enacted by President Joe Biden on Jan. 20 as means to utilize the funds. The order states that “the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”

Lewis spoke on behalf of the East Alabama Economic Roundtable.

“We are a group of leaders from the faith-based community, the business sector and non-profit arena and our mission is to ensure the optimal implementation of the rescue plan’s funds with equity in mind,” he said.

Some communities were hit harder by the pandemic than others, Lewis said, including the disabled, black and brown communities.

“As research from the National Equity Analyst Federal Reserve and others have shown, eliminating racial inequities will strengthen local economies,” he said.

Lewis encouraged the commission to consider equity-focused services as an outlet for the money.

“We are asking that you, explicitly, commission, name racial equity as a goal when allocating the ARP funds and work with us to identify specific targets to produce results at scale,” he said. “In this process, we also ask that you would, because we think this is necessary, engage historically underserved communities.”

He then asked the commission what the timeline was for allocation and asked for a commitment from the commission to allow them a seat at the table for the discussion, but English said the commission wanted to receive all information from agencies in the community before making commitments.

However, one commissioner voiced support: “I’m for equity,” said District 5 Commissioner Richard LaGrand.

This is not Lewis’ first time to approach the commission and he informed them that he would be back.

Lewis was not the only citizen who approached the commission Monday to inquire about the ARP funding.

Melissa McConnell asked about the possibility of broadband internet in her area of Beauregard, Lee Road 39.

“We’re having a hard time getting internet access out in that area,” she said. “I wasn’t really big on it, but when the pandemic hit and our kids went virtual it was really, really hard to get good internet access. Not only for me, but I talked to other people in the community, teachers, everybody was having issues with internet. I’ve been doing everything I can to get broadband brought down our road.”

She asked that some of the ARP money be used to provide broadband in Beauregard.

“I’m here today to shine some light on that because that is a now issue in the community,” she said.

NOAA All Hazards Radios:

The commission approved a request to purchase NOAA All Hazards Radios for District 1 after District 1 Commissioner Cannon identified a need in the county.

“[Commissioner Cannon] had citizens that reached out to him regarding a lapse in coverage for notifications of weather-related notifications that do not have broadband internet so we can’t load an app on their phone because they don’t have internet,” said EMA Director Rita Smith. “And they don’t have an outdoor warning siren in this particular area that we’ve identified.”

The county will purchase 75 radios at a cost not to exceed $2,500, Smith said, though she said she thinks that is a high estimate.

However, the money is not in the EMA budget. County Administrator Roger Rendleman said the funding could come from contingency funds.

The county will program the radios and teach citizens how to use them.

Other Business:

– The commission established a trust fund for other post-employee benefits.

– The commission approved the county engineer as the county license inspector.

– The commission approved a motor vehicle software contract.

– The commission approved motor vehicle mail fees.

– The commission established the 2022 budget work sessions.

– The commission approved an ABC License application for Happy Hour Cigar Wine Spirits.

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