Douglas County Commission makes changes to CARES funding plan to increase local economic support

photo by: Jackson Barton/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse and downtown Lawrence are pictured in an aerial photo Saturday, July 13, 2019.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday revised its nearly $25 million coronavirus relief funding plan to include more aid for local businesses.

During a work session on the county’s funding plan for its allotment of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money, county staff suggested cuts to several areas of the originally proposed plan in order to increase the funding for economic recovery. But the commissioners went beyond that, making even more cuts to increase the economic spending even further.

“We can’t solve everybody’s problems, but we can send businesses a lifeline,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said about increasing economic support. “Absolutely we have to recognize the importance from this sector as an economic engine, as the heart and soul of who we are, what makes us feel whole as a community and what causes people to want to come here.”

In the county’s originally proposed spending plan that was presented last week, the economic recovery portion received just $1.2 million of the $24.9 million available. But after the commissioners made their changes on Wednesday, the plan was set to provide about $2.76 million for economic recovery, with additional funding for the Lawrence Restaurant Association, Downtown Lawrence, Inc., the Watkins Museum of History and other organizations.

To make up some of the economic cost increases, the county staff proposed making cuts to the allocations for the county government, the City of Lawrence and Eudora. It also proposed cuts to health and medical expenses, which removed about $300,000 of funding for Heartland Community Health Center and a $240,000 expense for COVID-19 testing that County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said was duplicated elsewhere.

But during the meeting, the commissioners needed to make another $1 million of cuts to allow for their increased suggestions for economic recovery funding. Commissioners suggested further cuts to the county, the City of Lawrence, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and LMH Health.

Plinsky said some of the changes would need to be verified, which she planned to do on Thursday. She said she planned to provide a “clean” proposal with the commissioners’ changes for consideration on Friday.

Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said he hoped the community realized that although the plan would help the community, it couldn’t fund everything. He said he hoped people wouldn’t focus on “winners and losers” in the plan.

“There is no way we can make everybody whole and erase all of the issues that have come with this global pandemic,” Kelly said. “I’m just pretty excited about a lot of the things we are doing.”

The commission will convene again for a special meeting at 8 a.m. Friday to finish up discussions and finalize the plan. The county is required to submit an approved plan to the state by Saturday.

Related stories

Aug. 8 — A look at some of the business programs slated to get CARES funding, a whole lot more that aren’t

Aug. 11 — Another look at proposed CARES funding shows big quarantine space at KU, campground for homeless people, rental assistance and more

Education changes

Along with the economic recovery changes, county staff suggested reorganizing the education funding going toward K-12 schools. However, it did not change the overall amount, $3.8 million, going toward education.

Rather than funding specific projects for K-12 education, the county staff chose to split up about $1.5 million of funding to be provided to schools as block grants. The grant amount for each institution is based on its student enrollment figures. Plinsky said that method is similar to how public schools receive funding from the state and would provide more consistency for the schools.

The grant funding would provide the Lawrence school district with about $1.1 million, the Eudora school district with about $165,000, the Baldwin City district with about $127,000 and the Perry-Lecompton district with about $36,000.

For private schools, St. John Catholic School would receive about $28,000, Corpus Christi Catholic School would receive about $23,000, Bishop Seabury Academy would receive about $20,000 and Veritas Christian School would receive about $14,000.

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