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Sumter County BOC approves the acceptance of CARES Act Phase 1 grant funding

AMERICUS – The Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved unanimously to accept the Phase 1 grant funding of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. Congress passed this piece of legislation back in March of 2020 to provide economic assistance to individuals and businesses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act Phase 1 grant funding is in the amount of $203,135.20. The BOC’s approval of this grant funding was made during its virtually held August Work Session on Tuesday, August 11.

Sumter County Financial Director Janice Jarvis told the BOC that the terms and conditions of the CARES Act Phase 1 funding had been electronically signed and that the initial 30 percent of the funding had been received in the amount of $203,135.20. Jarvis also told the BOC that the 30 percent should be used by September 1, 2020.

According to Jarvis, these grant funds may only be used to cover costs that: (1) Are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19. (2) Were not accounted for in the budget that was recently approved as of March 27, 2020, and (3) Were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020 and ends on December 30, 2020.

Jarvis went on to tell the BOC that after using the entire 30 percent funding allocation by September 1, 2020, Sumter County may request reimbursement from the remaining 70 percent for any expenditures that qualify. According to Jarvis, Sumter County’s 100 percent allocation from the Coronavirus Relief Fund is $677,117.00.

In an effort to follow Sumter County financial policies, Jarvis asked the BOC to approve the 30 percent funding award and the BOC voted unanimously to approve it.

Commissioner Mark Waddell made a motion for approval and Commissioner George Torbert seconded the motion. A vote was taken and the approval passed unanimously.

The BOC also approved a grant program that was developed by the Department of Homeland Security. This grant program was started in an effort to assist fire departments across the nation during the fiscal year of 2020. The program will provide a COVID-19 supplemental grant award to Sumter County Fire and Rescue (SCFR) in the amount of $12,553.00. In order to be eligible for the grant money, the SCFR had to spend $627.65 as a local match. SCFR Chief Jerry Harmon told the BOC that his department was selected for this grant and that he needed the BOC’s approval on this matter. Harmon added that the deadline to submit the necessary information must be made by Saturday, August 15 in order to receive the grant money. Harmon later told the Americus Times-Recorder that his department plans to reapply for the grant next year as well.

Commissioner Torbert made a motion to approve the grant money for the SCFR and Commissioner Waddell seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.

The BOC also approved a resolution to authorize the protection of Second Amendment rights in Sumter County. It is known as the Second Amendment Sanctuary and it is a resolution that many states, counties and municipalities across the US have adopted to prohibit and stop the enforcement of gun control measures that are perceived as a violation of the Second Amendment. So far, numerous counties in Georgia have approved this resolution and Sumter County is now one of them. The BOC discussed this resolution back in July, but did not approve it.

Board Chairman Clay Jones remarked that his problem with the resolution is that it’s there just to appease a few people and that it doesn’t hold water. “If it doesn’t hold water, why are we even fooling with it,” said Jones. Jones stated that he had read the resolution and that it basically states that the citizens have the right to bear arms, which is already in the US Constitution. Commissioner Waddell stated that if other counties are approving the resolution, he doesn’t have a problem with Sumter County approving it. Commissioner Torbert made a motion to approve the resolution and Commissioner Roberson seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval of the Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution passed unanimously.

The BOC also had a discussion on fire fees for the various solar installations around the county. Jarvis told the BOC that she and Harmon had lengthy discussion on this matter. She stated that Harmon has been looking around at other counties to see what formulas they use to charge fire fees to solar farms.

Harmon told the BOC that he discovered that a lot of counties charge fire fees per panel either by the kilowatt that the solar panels produce, a set parcel fee or per acre. “Charging 25 cents per panel doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but when you take our 10,000 acre solar farm, 25 cents a panel comes up to about $136,000.00 fire fee per year,” Harmon told the BOC. Harmon went on to say that a 50,000 panel solar farm would cost roughly $12,500.00. “I want to be fair with them,” said Harmon. “One of the fairest ways we could come up is what me and Miss Jarvis came up with.”

Jarvis asked Harmon if his firefighters would not be going inside the solar farms to put out fires, but instead would stay on the perimeter and the outside fence. Harmon replied that the firefighters would stay on the perimeter and not go inside the installation and added that he had met with a gentleman a week ago who is looking to put a solar farm out in the Bumphead Road area and that the gentleman had suggested to him that the firefighters stay outside of the facility. “We’re treating it like it’s a downed power line,” said Harmon. “If we go to a call where we got a power line on the ground, we don’t approach it. We stand by. We block off the area and wait for Georgia Power. Basically, that’s the service that we’re going to give the solar farm. We’re going to stand by, protect the outside perimeter of that gate until they get a representative on scene.”

Commissioner Waddell asked Harmon if he knew the dollar amount the other counties had earned through the charging of fire fees. “For the amount of infrastructure that’s put in there, I’d like to see more than just these fees. We might only make $2,000.00 a year,” said Waddell. “I’m not trying to sit there and make a ton of money off of them, but one thing we talked about in multiple, multiple meetings is this was an avenue for the county to earn a little bit more revenue.”

Waddell went on to say that he would like to see some documentation from other counties as to how much revenue they have made off of fire fees for solar farms.

Jarvis stated that Mitchell County charges a commercial fire fee per parcel. “We’ll be glad to revisit it and see,” said Jarvis. Harmon added that he will be able to obtain for the BOC all of the figures from other counties regarding the revenue they have made with fire fees. “There’s multiple ways to do it,” said Harmon. “Like I said, different areas are doing it different ways.”

The BOC also approved one Board appointment and two other reappointments to various Boards. Wesley Scott Ivey is currently serving on the Sumter County Board of Tax Assessors and has expressed his desire to continue serving on that Board. His current term ends on October 24, 2020, but the BOC approved his reappointment. Commissioner Waddell made a motion to approve Ivey’s reappointment and Commissioner Torbert seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.

Margaret McGruther, who is currently serving with the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities (DBHDD) Region 6 Regional Advisory Council (RAC), wants to be reappointed for another term. Her current term expired on August 8, 2020. Commissioner Waddell made a motion to approve McGruther’s reappointment and Commissioner Torbert seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval for reappointment passed unanimously.

Chris Wooden, who had been serving on the Sumter County Tourism Council (SCTC), resigned his position on June 25, 2020. The BOC voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Jessica Singer to take Wooden’s place on the SCTC. Commissioner Waddell made a motion for approval and Commissioner Torbert seconded the motion.