It is said to always try and find a bright side to a negative situation. One adage says there is always a silver lining in a dark cloud. It would be hard pressed to get someone to say just one good thing that has come out of the COVID pandemic that has besieged America over the last couple of years. If you were to ask a public official from the Town of Jonesboro to state a good thing, they will give you 1.6 million of them.
As in $1.6 million dollars of good things. Talk about a blessing in disguise.
The money was dedicated to the town through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), part of a multi billion dollar, federal relief package given to cities and township across the nation, designed to help relieve the burden the pandemic caused.
“The Town of Jonesboro received a federal grant the American Rescue Plan Act in the amount of $1.6 million dollars,” Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson happily reported. “One half of those funds have already been received with the remaining portion expected to be awarded in July of 2022.”
The money couldn’t have come at a better time either as for the first time in several years, residents and Town of Jonesboro officials have real hope of finally resolving what has been a major problem for years. Actually, it is the combination of several problems that are intertwined. Ask any resident and they will quickly tell you it is the ongoing problems with the aged and decaying water and sewer system that are forefront. Ask town officials and they will tell you that financial problems are the root of the problems.
The fact is that the problem of one area leads to the problem in the other and back around again.
This isn’t the only money that Jonesboro is expected to receive either. Additional grant money in the amount of $1.19 million and $750,000.00 has been awarded from the Louisiana Community Development Block Grant (LCDBG) and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ.
More applications for additional grant money has been sent to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to Mayor Thompson applying for state and federal money is a requirement to survive in today’s environment.
“So many rural towns across the state are financially strained and revenue challenged. Jonesboro is no exception. Our tax base is no longer strong enough to maintain the quality of life our citizens are accustomed to,” said Thompson. “Today we must realize that state and federal grants have become the lifeline of our very survival. Rest assured, applying for grant money will continue to be a priority of this administration.”
That was not always the case. Simply put, when the Thompson administration took office in 2018, the Town of Jonesboro wasn’t eligible to apply for grants. That was because of the towns financial woes and restrictions placed as result of being on the Legislative State Auditor’s “non-compliance” list.
For over a two-year period, administration officials and the accounting firm of Ken Folden and Company worked to bring the towns finances up to speed. While the work required to be fully removed from the “Non-Compliance” list was not complete the Legislative Auditor saw enough progress that in June, 2020, the town was temporarily removed so it would be able to apply for much needed funding that would bring the water and sewage system into compliance with LDH, LDEQ and EPA regulations.
Fast forward to 2022 where the town of Jonesboro is now in compliance with Legislative Auditor Requirements. The result is more grants have been able to be applied for and more grant money has been received. Also, thanks to the infusion of ARPA money, the town is able to provide matching money for several water and sewer projects now being completed. bringing new promise of long-awaited solutions to old problems.
While the work being done bring new promise of long-awaited solutions to old problems, there is still a long way to go according to Jonesboro Public Works Director Calvin Wortham.
“We did an extensive evaluation of our existing infrastructure,” said Wortham. “It is imperative that we stay in compliance as we need the grant money available. While we are making good strides, we have just barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done.”