Douglas County Commission to consider contingency plan for unspent federal COVID-19 aid

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.

Douglas County may soon approve a backup plan to spend outstanding federal pandemic relief money before the end-of-year deadline.

During its meeting on Wednesday, the County Commission will consider giving County Administrator Sarah Plinsky the authority to execute a contingency plan for the unspent funds from the county’s $24.9 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act allocation.

The county only has a month left to ensure the funding is spent. Any money not spent by the end of the year will be lost.

Plinsky reported to the commissioners during their most recent meeting on Nov. 18 that just over half the amount — $13.07 million of the $24.9 million — had been distributed. At that meeting, Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said he was concerned the total amount would not be spent on time. Plinsky told the commissioners that she knew some of the projects in the plan were underway, but the organizations that had received the funding for them had not yet reported to the county that the funds had been spent.

But Plinsky said there were funds she thought wouldn’t be spent in time, and she said she would bring a plan to the commissioners with ways to make sure the money was used before the end of the year.

“We can move things around,” Plinsky said. “We do not have any flexibility on the date. That is the part that is really difficult for all of us.”

On Monday, Plinsky told the Journal-World that she didn’t have a plan to share publicly when the meeting agenda was published last week because of the Thanksgiving holiday. But she said county staff and the organizations slated to receive funding in the original plan would identify areas where the money could be reallocated.

According to information the county published Tuesday, the county has received about $3.1 million in additional funding requests from organizations who were part of the original plan. Among those requesting more funding were schools and other organizations hoping to cover more personal protective equipment expenses and local business organizations requesting additional economic support.

Plinsky said that the county hoped to have more information available during the meeting on Wednesday and that the commissioners would be able to give staff more direction on the matter.

“The Commission can decide they need more time or request more information from staff, so they may not make a decision on Wednesday,” Plinsky said in an email to the Journal-World. “Both the Commission and staff are very aware of the tight timeframes to make decisions and have these funds deployed in the community.”

In other business, the commissioners will:

• Consider awarding a conditional use permit to Taylor Four LLC to use some of its 38-acre property at the northeast corner of the East 1200 Road and North 1800 Road intersection for mining and excavation.

According to the planning documents, Taylor Four LLC plans to dig up the land so the material can be used to fill a disposal pit on an adjacent property to the north. The adjacent property is owned by energy provider Evergy, which holds a separate conditional use permit that allows for the disposal pits. Evergy estimates that 120,000 cubic yards of material will be needed to fill the disposal pits.

• Consider providing an additional $30,000 of 2021 fiscal year funding to Trinity In-Home Care, which will be used to provide in-home services to elderly county residents. The county originally allocated $60,000 for the organization in the 2021 budget, but commissioners heard a report during a recent work session about how the organization was struggling to maintain operations because of the pandemic.

• Hold a work session to hear an update from the Lawrence Community Shelter and receive the shelter’s annual report.

The County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. Wednesday for its work session and 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 931 2033 9421.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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