The City of Crossett is set to receive $914,000 as part of the American Recovery Plan. 

The funds, which were allocated through Congress as part of a COVID-19 relief package, will likely be delivered in two installments in the near future, Mayor Crystal Marshall said at Monday’s meeting of the City Council.

“Our intention when we receive that money is to create a separate bank account and just stick it there,” she said.

“We are going to let it sit until it becomes clear what our options truly are.”

The city hasn’t made any specific plans for the yet-to-be-received funding because the U.S. Treasury Department was tasked with creating guidelines of how such money can be spent, and those guidelines were handed down in a 151-page document, Marshall said.

“We are trying to start the training from the Treasury Department where that (money) can be spent without putting it at risk where the federal government can’t come back and say it wasn’t spent as intended,” she said.

“As I understand it from the Arkansas Municipal League, there are about 45 or 50 ways that would make sense to spend it.”

After the city receives the funds, it has until 2024 to have the money obligated toward a project, and the cash has to be spent by 2026.

Marshall said that having to figure out what to do with nearly $1 million, “is a great problem to have.”

“Things like this probably happen once in a lifetime,” she said. “We will be heavily audited for this, and we don’t want to give it back.”

In other news:

4Marshall told the council that the city is working with approximately 51 property owners to acquire the easements necessary to complete the East Crossett Sewer Project.

Voters approved a half-cent sales tax to finance the up-to $7 million project in May 2020, which was marketed not only as a way to improve sewer service to that end of the city but to add enough sewer capacity to make future industrial development at the Crossett Industrial Park possible.

“I like to believe that we live in a world that everyone will hand over those easements because it is for the greater good of Crossett, and if we have economic development, it is good for everybody,” Marshall said.

In the meantime, however, the city will have to seek some interim financing for the project because the bond that will pay for it can’t close until the city has all of the easements in hand, she said, and the sales tax money doesn’t become available for the project until the bond closes.

The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission is working to provide the city with interim financing, she said. The ARNC board was set to meet May 19 to finalize an ordinance that, if adopted by the City Council, would allow the interim financing to deploy.

The interim financing can be paid using sewer rates, Marshall said, but once the bond opens and the sales tax funds become available, it can be repaid using those funds. 

If the ARNC approves the interim financing ordinance, the City Council will have to advertise and host a public meeting to discuss it. After meeting those requirements, if the council then adopts the ordinance, voters will have up to 30 days to call a referendum to vote on it. If no referendum is called, the ordinance passes into law and the financing becomes available.

Marshall said the interim funds would only be needed for a short period of time because they were for the acquisition of easements.

“That’s our biggest bottleneck right now, the acquisition of easements,” she said.

4The council voted to seek bids to improve Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility to City Park by adding wheelchair-accessible parking pads and sidewalks to the areas near the pavilions and to the walking trail.

4The council voted to advertise for bids for mowing and litter pickup along state highways. 

While the council did not commit to a plan of action, the members said they wanted to be able to compare the cost of bids versus a projected in-house cost for the proposed work. 

Marshall said she had asked the highway department about mowing and litter pickup along the highways and was told that the grass would be mowed three times a year.

“‘They said our goal is safety and visibility,’ and that is when I got it,” Marshall said. “We just don’t have the same goals. My goal is for it to look good because it is my town, and their goal is for it to be safe and visible, and frankly that is all they’re funded for.”

Public Works Director Jeff Harrison said the highways were mowed two weeks ago.

“You just can’t tell it,” he said.

Councilman James Knight said he believes that, if someone was to take on the job, it should be done no less than every two weeks.

“I think if we can get this done, when people come to town they can have something better to look at,” he said.

Councilman Chris Gill said it’s sometimes easy to become complacent to things that are in front of you, but when people leave and come back to the area they will make comments about the things they see.

“I think doing some stuff like this (mowing and litter pickup) will make a difference when you have businesses coming to look at the community,” Gill said.

The vote to seek bids was unanimous. Though the council is seeking the bids, the city is not obligated to accept any of them.

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