Cobb County will dedicate American Rescue Plan Act money to help pay for a new elections office.
Cobb County’s elections office is currently at 736 Whitlock Ave. Northwest in Marietta. County officials intend to move the office about three miles east to the shuttered Mansour Conference Center, 995 Roswell St.
The Center for Family Resources closed the conference center and sold it to Cobb County for $7.5 million in July 2020. Commissioners ratified the purchase with intentions to convert the building into its new headquarters for the Elections and Registration Department.
Elections officials say the revamped structure will allow the county to consolidate office and warehouse space into one central location for the November 2022 elections.
Renovations will cost just shy of $3.9 million.
Cobb County plans to spend about $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to build social distancing protocols and COVID-19 mitigations into public areas of the new building where voters and employees will interact. The county will use $2.8 million of its own reserve funds to cover the remaining renovation costs.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said the entire project is eligible for ARPA funds and asked why the county isn’t using those pandemic relief dollars to cover all the costs.
“Why are we taking it out of fund balance and depleting our savings when we know it’s eligible for ARP funding,” she said. “We have $74 million that we received in ARP money and that’s just half of what’s to come. I don’t think $3 million is going to break the bank.”
Cobb County will receive nearly $148 million in federal aid as part of the $1.9 trillion ARPA bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in March. The county got its first $73.8 million installment in May.
Deloitte, a consulting firm, will advise county officials how to most wisely spend the ARPA dollars. Commissioners approved a one-year contract with the New York City-based consultant Tuesday.
County Manager Dr. Jackie McMorris said she will ask Deloitte to look at using ARPA funds to reimburse the county’s reserve fund for the roughly $2.8 million in reserve funds it will spend on the renovations at Mansour Conference Center.
Birrell said it will likely be months before Deloitte actually begins consulting. She voted against Tuesday’s proposal.
“I do support the project, but I don’t support the way it’s been revised to appropriate the funding,” she said.
Commissioner Keli Gambrill voted against the measure as well, saying she also opposed using reserve dollars to pay for the capital project.
Cobb has already allocated ARPA money toward a handful of initiatives such as food distribution efforts, emergency rental assistance and to fund more staffing for the Magistrate Court to help clear the pandemic-related backlog.
Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said while the renovations for a new elections office are eligible to be fully funded by ARPA, the project wasn’t urgent enough to expend the federal dollars before Deloitte comes aboard to advise the county.
“The justification as to why we spent money on certain items was to address certain exigent matters that were related directly to COVID or the pandemic,” she said. “And it’s hard to perceive this expense as being directly related to that. Not saying it’s not eligible, but it just does not meet the same level of exigence as those other items.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution