Douglas County Commission finalizes $24.9 million CARES funding plan

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

The Douglas County Commission on Friday finalized a plan for nearly $25 million of coronavirus relief funding and will soon submit it to the state for review.

The commission met during a special meeting to put the final touches on its allotment of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money, also known as CARES. The $24.9 million funding plan accounts for the first round of federal aid, which was distributed to counties. The state is expected to provide more funding through additional rounds later this year.

The commissioners spent the early portion of the meeting refining language for certain economic recovery funds in the plan to make sure the public understands the funds are available to businesses throughout the county. For example, the commissioners made the funding provided to the Lawrence Restaurant Association and Downtown Lawrence, Inc. — $1.65 million and $450,000, respectively — in the form of grant programs that hospitality and retail businesses throughout the county could then apply for.

Commissioner Michelle Derusseau said that means some of the requests from businesses the county received but did not ultimately fund in the plan will have another opportunity to apply for aid through the grant programs. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said which businesses will receive those funds will be determined later.

“It’s a clean slate,” Plinsky said. “The intent is that we are creating a new program that will be eligible countywide. But who those exact recipients are won’t be determined for probably a couple of weeks, maybe a month.”

The commissioners also heard an impassioned plea from Lea Roselyn of the United Way of Douglas County, who requested the commissioners restore $115,000 of funding for a racial equity, diversity and inclusion program that the City of Lawrence had applied for. The commissioners removed the funding from the plan on Wednesday.

While all three commissioners all said they believed the program was important and would be beneficial, they said it was removed because they wanted to expand the program to the entire county, not just Lawrence. To do that, more time and more funding would likely be needed.

“We want to make sure it’s done, but we want to make sure that it’s done right,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said.

Additionally, Derusseau said she did not believe the funding was immediately related to relief for the pandemic. On Wednesday, she said she thought the City of Lawrence could have been funding the program on their own, outside of CARES funding.

But the commissioners all said they want to explore the program in the near future, possibly paying for it through their own budget or by creating a joint program with the City of Lawrence.

“We all agree it’s very important and we want to move forward with it,” Derusseau said.

Finally, the commissioners reduced the amount of funding provided to the University of Kansas for a meal program at its scholarship resident halls by $100,000, dropping the total funds to the program to $350,000. The commissioners then used the $100,000 and the remaining unallocated funds, which was roughly another $100,000, to restore a $200,000 cut to the county.

The commissioners had made $200,000 of general cuts to the county’s programs on Wednesday to help fund increases to economic recovery funding. But Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said Friday he wanted to put it back in to provide the county with more flexibility, as the county would have otherwise needed to cover the $200,000 in its own budget.

With the County Commission’s approval of the plan, it will now be sent to the state for review. The state has until Sept. 15 to approve the plan. Additionally, Plinsky said the county will publish the final proposal on the county’s website,

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