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County may seek legal advice for use of ARP funds

Expected to discuss hiring experts on use of ARP funds

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners are expected to discuss hiring outside legal counsel to help review requests from groups and individuals seeking funding from the county’s portion of the American Rescue Plan.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa is asking permission from the board to seek requests for qualifications to hire an attorney outside of the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Our prosecutor’s office is not equipped for the technical and legal expertise of this ARP money,” Cantala-messa said during Tuesday’s work session. “Most prosecutors’ offices do not have this kind of expertise because this is new to everybody.

“There are law firms out there that can lend assistance that some other counties have retained,” he continued. “They will give us assistance on the viability and the legality of projects.”

Law firms considered for the job would advise the commissioners on the administrative requirements, financial reporting and guidance on potential ARP sub-recipient contracts.

Any law firm that is hired would have to be available Monday through Friday to provide technical and / or legal assistance.

Cantalamessa wants a firm hired by Jan. 14.

Trumbull County is to be awarded $38 million in ARP funds over a two-year period. It already has been awarded half of the funds and it is expected to receive the remainder of the money in 2022.

“None of funds have been spent,” Cantalamessa said.

Nearly 30 projects have been submitted to the commissioners requesting the use of the ARP funds, Cantalamessa said. Some of the projects were submitted by the county’s sanitary engineer, as well as projects submitted by other Trumbull communities.

Ninety-five percent of the submitted projects are related to water and sewer infrastructure, he continued.

Bill Danso, a Trumbull County assistant prosecutor, agreed there are some cases where having an attorney with specialized training and skills is very important.

“We (the prosecutor’s office) defer to the commissioners for this type of decision,” Danso said.

Commissioner Niki Frenchko noted she brought up the idea of hiring an outside attorney to vet ARP programs several meetings ago. Cantalamessa questioned why she did not bring forward a request for qualifications since that time.

He noted the idea of hiring an outside attorney for ARP consultation was recommended by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

“Other communities, such as Lake, Summit and Franklin, are exploring using legal consultants forARP contracts,” Cantalamessa said.

Cantalamessa said the county has had a lot of proposals sent in already that must be reviewed.

“We want to be certain we are in compliance before we spend any of this money,” he said. “This can be paid for out of the ARP money, so it will not cost the general fund anything.”

The commissioners likely will begin evaluating and scoring projects, even before hiring a law firm to review them.

“We already have rubrics for infrastructure, nonprofit and other potential partners,” Cantalamessa said. “We are hoping to begin the application process for the ARP projects in early January.”

In other business:

Frenchko is seeking to amend legislation that was approved last week that will require all county employees under the commissioners’ office to punch in using a time clock.

Today’s amendment also would allow employees to use time sheets to account for their work time.

Frenchko noted the use of time clocks can be manipulated. She would like the county to use time sheets and computerized software, so those people who may be working away from their offices at their homes can be held accountable for the time they are working.

Cantalamessa said he is interested in making sure employees are working 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“What about those persons that work during evening shifts or must work from their homes?” Frenchko said.

Frenchko is proposing accounting for their time by submitting weekly time sheets that specify the number of hours worked daily on each task.

“These amendments are based on discussions we had during last week’s meeting,” Frenchko said. “He supported what is in these amendments then. Now he doesn’t.”

Cantalamessa, however, denied agreeing to amend the legislation last week.

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