OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — The county could soon hire a third-party consultant to oversee and administer its American Rescue Plan Act funds.
By the end of 2024, Oktibbeha County will receive $9.62 million in ARPA funds from the federal government. In order to find the best ways to allocate its funds and properly carry out the administrative procedures, the board of supervisors heard presentations from three potential consultants at its regular board meeting Monday — The Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, HORNE Group and Local Government Solutions.
The county voted Dec. 6 to allocate its ARPA funds to repairing the Oktibbeha County Lake dam, but because the county has not received information on how much maintenance would cost, the board could have other funds remaining after repairs, especially if the cost of the lake are on the lower end of initial estimates of $2 million to $10 million.
Golden Triangle Planning and Development District Executive Director Rudy Johnson said GTPDD is already working with other counties to help allocate their ARPA funds and could do the same for Oktibbeha County. If chosen, Johnson said he would look for other funding sources to help finance projects in the county, such as Mississippi’s ARPA matching program.
Johnson said GTPDD’s fee for consultation would be 4 percent, or $384,800 of the county’s ARPA funds.
“We’re not in it for a profit,” Johnson said. “We just want to cover our costs.”
Ridgeland-based consulting group HORNE has administered over $90 billion in federal funding since the company’s existence, firm manager Chris Richardson told the board.
HORNE began its ARPA operations in September, partnering with several counties in the southeast United States.
Senior ARPA Administrator and grant writer Ty Mabry said because HORNE is a business consulting group, managing money like ARPA is what the company does best.
“This is what we do, frankly,” Mabry said. “This is our expertise. We have created a team from Mississippi that does nothing but ARPA-related issues.”
Richardson said his company helps with risk assessments by identifying which projects could have a high risk-factor for audit, as well as setting up policies and procedures for grant programs, such as the Mississippi ARPA matching program, and helping the county file required reports.
The risk assessment proprietary system Mabry created identifies objective criteria within ARPA guidelines that could create delays or determine how complex a project is. This assessment not only provides the county with information about a timeline for a potential project but also analyzes if the project properly fits under the ARPA guidelines. HORNE creates reports “by auditors, for auditors,” Mabry said.
“We want everybody sleeping well at night,” Mabry said. “We don’t want people revisiting this situation in the future wondering, ‘What were we doing?’”
HORNE Senior Manager Luke McAlpin said just last week, HORNE had 230 applications with over $337 million dollars of requested funding for projects, but after the company put the list through the risk assessment, only $80 million of the projects remained. McAlpin said this is not to discourage the board, but to ensure it is taking the proper steps to allocate its funds.
“We’ve got a good plan in place from the front end to the back end,” McAlpin said. “Whether that is looking at applications, deciding on whether or not it is legal to go with, or our reporting categories that we have set in place.”
HORNE’s fee for consultation is 3.5 percent, or $336,700 of the county’s ARPA funds.
Local Government Solutions and Strategies has helped local governments since 2001, owner Andrew Smith said. He said while the county has until the end of 2024 to decide what to spend its money on, time is dwindling because every county in the country is going to be spending their money as well, and materials and contractors could be competitive in the near future.
Smith said he is already working with one other county in Mississippi and hopes Oktibbeha County will partner with him as well, saying his maximum number of counties he will take on is four.
“We help to facilitate the ARPA process,” Smith said. “Keep the dots connected so that (the county) can get more money and make more of an impact.”
Smith said he would try to find the county other funds aside from the $9.62 million already allocated to complement the current resources and give the county more opportunity for projects.
Smith said County Administrator Delois Farmer does not have time to oversee this process and that is what his job would be. He said he has a passion for helping local governments and seeing the difference made makes him proud of his job.
“I wake everyday knowing exactly what I am tasked to do, which is a part of me,” Smith said. “It makes me complete and helps me complete communities. I don’t feel like I’m just going through the motions to get a paycheck.”
LGSS would only charge the county 2 percent of its ARPA funds, or $192,400.
New property purchase
The board also approved the purchase of a property on Lynn Lane to give the county more office space.
Board Attorney Rob Roberson said county employees are currently “on top of each other” and after negotiating with the current owner of the property for six months, the board approved the $1.8 million purchase. The property, located at 48 Lynn Lane, is 10,820 square feet with 37 offices, two meeting rooms and a large corporate conference room.
Roberson said he believes this was the best route in obtaining additional space because buying this property is cheaper than buying land and trying to build.
The closing on the property, at the latest, Roberson said, will be Thursday, and the board will vote at its first meeting in January on which departments or employees will be housed in the new building.
“This is going to give us more administrative space in a clean environment so that the county will have a place to do business that they will be proud of,” Roberson said.