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ARP to fund Edneyville sewer; VFW, soccer park are other options

Chart shows potential uses for $22.8 million in American Rescue Plan money Henderson County will receive over two years. [HENDERSON COUNTY MANAGER’S OFFICE] Chart shows potential uses for $22.8 million in American Rescue Plan money Henderson County will receive over two years. [HENDERSON COUNTY MANAGER’S OFFICE]

Edging closer to their first major decision on spending $22.8 million in American Rescue Plan money, Henderson County commissioners on Monday signaled unanimous support for spending close to half the total on the Edneyville-Fruitland sewer system.

Also ranked high and eligible for reimbursement under the Covid-related federal relief act were a reimbursement of $750,000 for Covid-related medical expenses and $1 million to cover costs EMS crews incurred responding to coronavirus-related calls.
The commissioners’ discussion Monday came after administrators presented a chart that had trimmed the total requests based on board members’ rankings from 1 to 5 stars.
“The sewer project is a 5,” Assistant County Manager Amy Brantley said. “Everybody sees that as a priority.”
Below the list of eligible projects was $11.1 million worth of proposals vying for $10 million in a “standard allowance” category exempt from the rigid guardrails created by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Among the options on that list are $4.2 million for the Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 hall renovation, $3.1 million for a new EMS station in Fletcher, $2.7 million for a new soccer park, $600,000 for sheriff’s office radios, $600,000 for emergency communication tower replacements or upgrades in Fletcher, Mills River and Bearwallow and $117,000 for five power-load systems for ambulances. Agreement on those was less widespread.
“I’m concerned about soccer fields, $2.7 million,” Chairman Bill Lapsley. “We don’t have a particular project in mind for that other than the category soccer fields and that number can be fluid. Personally I support the soccer program but my feeling is that number should be substantially lower.”
Vice Chair Rebecca McCall, who has spearheaded the county’s efforts to either overhaul the pasture-like fields at Jackson Park or start over somewhere else, defended the investment. Along with county staffers she visited public soccer parks in Upstate South Carolina and came away impressed.
“I spent a day traveling throughout Greenville, South Carolina, County,” she said. “We visited five parks that were totally dedicated to soccer. Soccer is exploding and not only is soccer exploding but cricket. It’s crazy.”
She noted that the county has received a $500,000 state recreation grant it has tentatively directed toward a new $200,000 playground at Jackson Park and $300,000 to improve the soccer fields there. But because engineering studies have shown there’s nothing the county can do about the frequent flooding at the creekside fields, McCall suggested $300,000 would be better spent on a new playground at East Flat Rock Park.
“Jackson Park isn’t going to cut it for soccer,” she said. “It’s a substitute and if we support our children moving forward with soccer we need to provide better facilities for that. Whatever we do at Jackson Park it’s still gonna flood.”
Commissioners held off on a decision about a soccer park, the VFW project and the other ideas for now. They’ll take up the topic again at their April 20 meeting. County Manager John Mitchell said staff would present a more detailed picture of the soccer options at that time.

Nonprofit leaders speak

The discussion on rescue plan spending came after the leaders of the two largest nonprofits providing human services, social services and other forms of help for the needy asked the board to gather information on how the county’s nonprofit agencies can use ARP money.
“We’re here to appeal on behalf of Henderson County’s incredible nonprofit community and we want to ask you to consider input from our nonprofit leaders before making your final decision on ARP funding,” said Denise Cumbee Long, executive director of the United Way. In their roles guiding the two largest charity programs, the two leaders meet regularly with other nonprofits.
“We feel this gives us a bird’s eye view of some of the issues and challenges that our nonprofits are able to address in the community,” she said. “The last two years have been hard on everybody but especially on vulnerable people in our community.”
“We feel these funds are really a unique opportunity that are not likely to come our way again,” he said. “Our nonprofit’s valuable input would benefit our community and would also align with the ARP guidelines.”
McCray Benson, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, also praised the effectiveness of the county’s many profits in meeting needs in housing, food, health and other areas.
“They work collaboratively and have had success addressing issues like homelessness and housing,” hunger, substance abuse, mental health instability and other needs, he said. “Nonprofits are experienced in handling sophisticated accounting for grants from multiple funding streams including federal and state funds. Denise and I have heard from a number of nonprofits that they can use ARPA funds for specific projects that align with our priorities.”
Lapsley directed the county manager to meet with nonprofit leaders and get more information on their request.