Commissioners show support for ARPA funding appropriations

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners last week voted in support of one-time $2,500 payments for full-time county employees, and of setting aside $250,000 for loans to small businesses.

The commissioners' agenda for July 12 reflected likely additional discussion on the appropriations, but District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones voiced confidence Friday, July 9, that the funding decisions are on solid legal ground.

Jones placed on the July 6 county board agenda the proposal for one-time payments to full-time county employees as of July 1. Taxes and retirement would be deducted from the payments. The money is to come out of the county's American Rescue Plan Act funding. Osage County has been approved for $9 million through the federal Rescue Plan Act. 

“This is one of the things we can do on that," Jones told his fellow commissioners and other county officials July 6.

“I think it’s a great idea,” County Clerk Robin Slack said.

Jones said there were about 190 full-time county officials who would qualify for the one-time payments. The cost would come to about $475,000 to $480,000, he said. Elected officials would not receive payments, as approved last week by a 3-0 vote of commissioners.

Jones indicated he would like for the payments to be made as soon as possible. The additional income for employees would come to about $1 an hour extra, as a way of acknowledging the risks and sacrifices they have made during the COVID-19 health event, Jones said.

District 2 Commissioner Steve Talburt voted in favor of the payments to employees, but voiced concern about whether it was fair for everyone to get the same amount. Specifically, he expressed concern that it was “not really fair to the ones that were out there hitting it every day,” as opposed to workers who were allowed to do job tasks from home.

Jones said that office workers “rotated in and out” and kept their operations functioning.

“The main thing is they did keep their offices going; keep their services going,” Jones said.

He explained that county employees in many positions were asked to put themselves at risk because of COVID-19. Part-time and contract employees will not receive payments.

“We put them in harm’s way," Jones said of county employees.

The commissioners also voted to appropriate $250,000 of ARPA funds to the Osage County Industrial Trust Authority to provide small business loans.

“That would give them the capacity to do another 10 small business loans all across Osage County,” Jones said. He had in mind $25,000 loans at low interest.

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane, who was present July 6, confirmed she had reviewed the proposed appropriation.

“This is renewable money for them,” Jones said. He explained the money would be lent and then paid back to be issued in the form of further loans. “This is giving them a little bit of capital to work with.”

The county Industrial Trust Authority previously received $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use as revolving loans. That money is in the process of being repaid.

Slack said she would bring a resolution on the matter for formal signing on July 12.

Several members of the Industrial Trust Authority’s Loan Committee on Thursday, July 8, met at the Tri-County Tech building in Pawhuska and discussed details of the way they would handle the lending of the additional small business loan funds. Jones met with them for a portion of their session.

It seemed clear from the discussion that the Industrial Trust Authority does not view the ARPA funds as suitable for start-up loans, but rather for loans to help existing small businesses. Interested businesses can contact Nona Roach, administrative assistant for the authority, via email at nroach@windstream.net and ask questions about the program.

The commissioners’ agenda for July 12 explicitly reflected the likelihood of further discussion of both ARPA decisions. Two agenda items gave the commissioners the authority to decide if they would like to postpone signing the official resolutions until approval of some kind is received from the state auditor and inspector's office. The July 12 agenda item regarding the funding for business loans also mentioned an interest in obtaining “recent audited financial statements” from the Industrial Trust Authority.

Jones, who had been the principal supporter of both measures, said Friday that he thought there would be further discussion but he was confident there were no legal problems with them. He said that he had checked on the legality of the measures before bringing them up and remained “100 percent sure we’re on solid legal ground.”