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Quorum Court votes to use American Rescue Plan funds for land purchase and construction of new Health Department building

The Baxter County Quorum Court passed several resolutions Tuesday evening to advance several ongoing projects.

Those resolutions included the appropriation of $4 million to purchase land and construct a new Health Department building, as well as appropriations for an additional $300,000 to the Denton Ferry Road Bridge project.

Baxter County’s Health Department has been in need of a new building for some time, with plans to build a new building going as far back as 2008.

The money for the department’s new building comes from the American Relief Act, with $600,000 being used to purchase land, $400,000 for architectural designs, and the remaining $3 million going towards construction.

Monies from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are required to be appropriated and designated to a project by Dec. 2023, with that project being encumbered by 2024. All monies must be spent by 2026. If that money is not appropriated for a purpose by next year’s deadline, then it is required to be sent back to the federal government.

“We’ve been needing a new building for 12, 14 years,” said Baxter County Judge Pendergrass. “It’s been undersized. We’ve been working on this project since 2008. We’ve never had the funding before this.”

Work for the Denton Ferry Road Bridge Project is also continuing at a good pace, though high fuel prices have begun to take their toll on the county. With work continuing, the court voted to appropriate an additional planned $300,000 from their ARPA fund to the Denton Ferry Road Project.

During the vote, members of the court also raised some concerns with fuel prices, which have already burned through roughly 80% of the county’s fuel budget limit for the Road and Bridge Department. Judge Pendergrass said the county was monitoring fuel consumption and costs to avoid having to shut down equipment. He noted that increased revenue to the county through its sales tax was helping to offset some of the high fuel costs.

One of the county’s fuel budget line items, specifically for the bridge project, is in the red for $209,000. That budget deficit is being covered by $1.1 million from several other road and bridge funds.

During last night’s session, the court also voted to pay off $199,396.19 in bonds for the Baxter County Airport in order to allow further expenditures.

The Baxter County Airport asked members of the Baxter County Quorum Court to begin thinking about setting aside money for their share of the costs to expand the airport’s runways after receiving a promise of financial support from the Federal Aviation Administration during July’s court session.

The upgrade project would see the airport’s runway receive a 1000-foot extension and a 1500-foot displacement, allowing the airport to receive commercial flights again.

The cost of the expansion project will run between $24-26 million, with roughly 90% of the costs being covered by the federal government. The remaining costs will be split between the state, the county, and various grant programs.

If the Baxter County Quorum Court agrees to invest in the airport’s expansion, taxpayers can expect to pay anywhere between $1.2-1.8 million, or roughly 5% of the project’s cost.

The Baxter County Airport currently has 74 aircraft registered with the airport, with an additional 35 waiting for hangar space, and up to 30-40 students waiting in the wings to be trained at the airport.

The airport’s current manager is set to leave in October and receives a salary of $29,000. The airport has asked for the county’s help in finding a quality replacement for the position that can handle the expansion project. The salary for the replacement is expected to be around $90,000 in annually.

The courts decision to pay off one of the airports bonds, will allow the airport to move forward with their plans to work with the FFA to expand their runways.

A vote to appoint Gwen Khayak to the board of the Baxter County Library was also passed.

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