By Josh Troy
At Wednesday’s meeting, the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors allocated $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to two local entities. Still, in the process, questions arose about different ways the money should be spent. The Supervisors unanimously voted to allocate $150,000 of ARPA funds to Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center to renovate Sasse Park. The other $100,000 of ARPA funds went toward Clarksdale Animal Rescue Effort & Shelter, but District 3 Supervisor Derrell Washington abstained, saying organizations that provide for humans should be a priority. The two projects add up to a total of $250,000.
Coahoma County received a total of $4.2 million in ARPA funds. Toward the end of the meeting, after votes on how to allocate ARPA funds had been taken, District 1 Supervisor Paul Pearson made a motion to terminate the contract of Local Government Solutions and Strategies. The Board hired Andrew Smith of Local Government Solutions and Strategies for $212,000 to advise the County on how to spend ARPA funds. Pearson’s motion died for lack of a second, and Smith is still under contract.
“I’ll be doing that every meeting,” said Pearson about making a motion to terminate the contract. CARES Board Member Rivers Humber appeared in front of the Supervisors on Wednesday. CARES had initially requested $150,000 of ARPA funds, and the Board previously agreed that each supervisor use $100,000 of ARPA funds for special projects. The initial plan was for each of the five Supervisors to allocate some of their special project funds to CARES.
Instead, the Board agreed to give $100,000 of ARPA money, which was $50,000 below the initial request, to CARES. But the Board announced on Wednesday that the money would not come from the special project funds. “We did make something happen, and I hope you all understand what we’re dealing with,” said Board President and District 4 Supervisor Johnny Newson. Newson acknowledged that the Supervisors would be able to provide $100,000 of funding to CARES regularly.
“We want to help you as much as we can,” he said. “Because the money that we have is very limited.” Humber and CARES Executive Director Paige Daugherty expressed appreciation. “I do want to thank you all,” Humber said. “We’ve been working on this together for a while. I know every one of you wants to help the shelter, and this will definitely help us.”
Daughtery talked about the importance of the donation. “Thank you guys so much,” she said. “We really do want to stay open. I feel like it’s such a grind, and we’re stretched thin. We’re doing this because we really believe the community needs it. If it doesn’t work, I want to be honest to God in front of everybody that we did everything we could do to stay open. This is really going to help us. We’ve got some decisions to make on what we’re going to do with it, but we appreciate it so much.”
After the Supervisors agreed to provide ARPA funds for Sasse Park and CARES, a representative from another organization appeared before the Board requesting money. Care Station President Charlie Estess said operating costs $10,000 a month, and he heard ARPA funds were still available. The Care Station, officially named Clarksdale Coahoma Ministries Incorporated, provides meals to the needy. Estess estimated the Care Station gives 4,500 plates of food each month to members of the community.
“As you all know, the cost of doing business is increasing by the day,” he said, “Unfortunately, the number of people that donate to the Care Station has reduced in size. “We just wanted to make a plea from the Care Station. I don’t have anything written at this time, so we can make a written report and be more specific about what we need to use the money for. But we’ve always got maintenance type problems. We’ve got a 20-year van with about 200,000 miles on it that could be on its last leg. We constantly need to do things that we just put off.”
Newson appreciated the efforts of all the Care Station volunteers. “We know what you do, Mr. Estess,” he said. “We appreciate everything you do.” Pearson had a personal story about the Care Station. “I have a good friend of mine whose mother passed away several years ago,” he said. “It was the only good meal she had of the day.
District 5 Supervisor Roosevelt Lee said he has known Estess for a long time. “I’m really proud of you all doing it,” Lee said. “That’s what Coahoma County is striving for, to make that reconnection where we all can blossom.” Washington concurred. “I just want to thank you for all you all do for the community, and I’m behind you 100%,” he said. Newson encouraged Estess to talk with Smith about applying for ARPA funds. “Mr. Smith will be glad to assist you in any form that can,” Newson said. “I can’t make any promises today, and we don’t do that.” Washington was at work and on Zoom when Estess spoke.
Washington said he wanted to scream on the phone that Estess should request $100,000. He added that he had issues with the Supervisors agreeing to provide $100,000 of ARPA funds to the CARES animal shelter.
“I was skeptical and scared about CARES because I know you set a precedent,” Washington said. “You cannot give any entity telling you they’re going to provide for humans less than what you have CARES because it’s going to look like you care more about the animals than humans.
“I am 100% behind the animal shelter and understand what they mean to this community.” However, Washington said using ARPA money for humans should be a priority. “I’d rather put what we’re doing for humans first, and what we’re going to do for animals comes down the list,” he said. Newson again said CARES would likely receive the $100,000 just one time, and it would put the animal shelter in good shape financially.
“Therefore, I had no problem making the recommendation of $100,000,” Newson said. District 2 Supervisor Pat Davis mentioned that the town of Friars Point, which he represents, has a broken backhoe and estimated fixing it could cost $8,000 to $10,000. The Board voted to transport the backhoe where it needs to be repaired and get an estimate of how much it would cost to fix it. Davis said ARPA funds could possibly be used for the repairs, but he did not make that recommendation on Wednesday. “Let’s do it in steps,” Davis said.