The Record Newspapers - Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

By Dave Rogers
For the Record 

County OK's ARPA projects, opioid settlement


Last updated 2/15/2022 at 7:07pm

Orange County Commissioners approved the Texas Statewide Opioid Settlement Agreement Tuesday, which means about a million dollars this year for the county.

It is expected to hit the county's account in six to nine months, County Judge John Gothia said.

Commissioners have also agreed upon how they wish to spend about $9.5 million of government funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act put forth by President Joe Biden and passed by Democratic Congressmen in 2021.

ARPA is a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package passed after a pandemic closed schools and shut down the economy.

The pandemic placed a new spotlight on the opioid crisis. According to the CDC, 13 in every 100,000 people nationwide died of opioid abuse.

Attorney Paul Henderson, the county's outside counsel, said the amount of Orange County's piece of the statewide settlement was "confidential ... but the county will come out very well ... it will be compensated for the damage from the opioid epidemic present and in the future."

Gothia reeled off specific numbers.

"Our first payment is $997,000 and some change, almost a million dollars," he said. "That's the initial payment without doing anything else.

"And they allocated another $70 million plus for our region of 16 counties that we can go in and ask for specific project money out of another settlement."

While it was too soon to say how the opioid settlement would be spent, the commissioners agreed Feb. 8 on nine projects on the county wish list for the ARPA money.

The county received its first of two $8 million grant payments last year but required legal advice on what expenses were allowed.

The first project is for a $5 million building to house a health clinic services, public health emergency preparedness and other services for residents disproportionately impacted by COVID. Orange County.

The estimated costs were published in the Feb. 8 meeting agenda.

The second costliest item was actually four $850,000 buildings, one per county precinct, to house vaccination and testing services and store PPE and host other disaster-related uses. Total estimate: $3.4 million.

The third item on the list was $575,000 for new electronic voting machines. These would assist in preventing close contact and would also go toward the county's goal of modernizing voting.

Thirty-five new computers costing $60,000 to be used by the Emergency Operations Center to track COVID, as well as other emergencies, are on the list. Also 65 portable radios for $80,000 and $6,500 for a portable X-ray machine for the county jail.

Rounding out this list are $316,000 for a total update of county phones; and two projects with no cost estimate: a PPE storage building for the EOC and GIS (Geographic Information System) software.

"The projects we approved went a little over the $8 million we already have, but none of those would happen before we get the second $8 million payment in June," Gothia said.

"We just proved the steps to move forward. Other than the architectural fees, some of the stuff we're doing for the Sheriff's Department, radios, things like that will happen. But that's just a couple hundred thousand dollars compared to $9 million."

Gothia said the county had already spent about $500,000 of the ARPA funds for projects for the Sheriff's Office, and another $600,000 or so for remote working technology and paying Orange County's portion for the regional COVID testing, vaccination and infusion operational costs.

The county reported Feb. 8 spending $134,868 from ARPA funds for portable radios, as well as $279,788 from the general fund for its annual cost share for the regional crime lab.

Those expenses were included in $1.017 million in bills paid at the Feb. 8 meeting. On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the county paid $431,151 in bills.

Tuesday, Treasurer Christy Khoury reported the county received $773,991 in its share of sales tax receipts for December.

Orange County's share of property tax collection for January 2022 was $18.5 million with 69.5% of the 2021 taxes collected to date.



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