American Rescue Plan: Here's how Jim Wells County, Alice will use more than $7 million
Jim Wells County and the City of Alice are preparing for the first half of the allocated funds from the American Rescue Plan expected to be released from the U.S. Department of Treasury in August. The funds were originally expected to be available in May.
Jim Wells County was awarded a total of $7.85 million and the City of Alice $4.07 million. That means the first half, which will be available in the next few weeks, will include $3.93 million to the county and $2 million to the city.
Here are the latest updates and planning for the federal funds.
Jim Wells County Update:
Jim Wells County commissioners court created a committee consisting of County Judge Juan Rodriguez, County Commissioner Margie Gonzalez, Sheriff Daniel Bueno, Alice Independent School District Board Trustee Margarito "Maggie" Perez and County Auditor Cindy Garcia and oversight from County Attorney Michael Guerra. The committee heard from four consultants and chose former City of Alice councilmember Yolanda Moran to oversee funding grant projects guidelines.
"A total of four consultants presented to the committee; three were from out of state and one was local," Rodriguez said. "It was the best choice to keep jobs locally. Moran is a county resident. She is invested in the community, she knows the area and we can work with her more directly.
Moran's contracted proposal is outlined in phases of goals and grant consulting for the county. The federal funds will support her services at $25 an hour, $2,000 bi-weekly and $50,000 annually.
"All projects for allocated funds will be presented to a separate committee that will be formed and will include community members before being sent to commissioners court for a final vote," Commissioner Gonzalez explained.
City of Alice Update:
Alice City Manager Michael Esparza presented to city council members the plan to use the funds for water and sewer infrastructure and recover sales tax revenue. A list of first priority streets for the project was submitted during the city council meeting on Tuesday, July 20.
During Tuesday's city council meeting, Mayor Cynthia Carassaco asked the council to discuss the possibility of a utility relief program for citizens or a small business incentives program. Not one council member offered a discussion or said a word but quickly moved to vote the presented plan from the city staff.
"It's a no-brainer," said council member Robert Molina when voting on the city water and sewer project.
"I was hoping to broaden the scope of funds to the citizens and small businesses in Alice. The council voted on approving the much-needed sewer and water infrastructure and a portion to revenue loss," Mayor Carrasco said. "I would have liked to see some of the funds go to a type of relief program for our citizens. According to the Department of Treasury, the implementation of fiscal recovery funds also reflects the importance of public input, transparency and accountability."
"How can we use the funds for just downtown? What about all the other businesses in the area? How do we determine which ones? The rate of return for funding programs for small businesses could take years and the aging infrastructure is a priority for the whole of the city," councilmember Pete Crisp said.
"I know that downtown associations impacted by COVID with reduced sales were eligible for possible monies and funding for tourism, " Director of Economic Development Larry Martinez explained. "I think a town hall meeting would have been better stewardship of the money to support the community needs. Innovation takes collaboration and the openness to hear others' input. At the very least an open dialogue with the mayor to discuss should have happened."
"We should look at funding opportunities and try to assist how we can improve avenues to spur economic growth and business needing capital," Martinez added. "For example, Tejano Roots and or the South Texas museum could be another way to attract people to our city coupled with downtown improvements. I think our citizens should give us feedback. The federal funds that are available now are only one of our lifetime chances for improvements."
"We used city staff to determine the best use of funds for city needs," Esparza said. "We know what our emergency needs are and that is aging infrastructure and on an administrative level we presented to the council and they voted."
As of now, $2 million is planned to improve water and sewer lines in the city and replace sales tax revenue lost during the pandemic.