Douglas County Commission reallocates about $650,000 of CARES funding, expects to make more changes next week

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.

To make sure outstanding federal pandemic relief money is spent before an end-of-the-year deadline, the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday reallocated about $650,000 unspent funds in its CARES Act spending plan.

And county staff believes there will be more funds to reallocate in about a week.

During its meeting on Wednesday, the County Commission authorized reallocating the unspent funds from its $24.9 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act allocation to various organizations that had requested additional funding. Those organizations include local food bank Just Food, the Lawrence Humane Society, Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center, and Tenants to Homeowners, an organization providing rent assistance to county residents.

The largest chunk of the reallocated funding — roughly $415,000 — was moved over to provide further economic support to the Lawrence Restaurant Association’s grant program for hospitality businesses and Lawrence Live, a live entertainment company. Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she felt those organizations were appropriate recipients because they don’t have many avenues to raise money during the pandemic.

“The original spirit of this was to see these funds (put toward) COVID-related urgent needs,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said. “I think we have some organizations waiting on us whose doors will close, whose employees are hanging on by a thread.”

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

Douglas County staff speak to the County Commission about federal CARES funding during a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.

The commissioners made the changes to the plan because several organizations that were slated to receive funding reported they would not be able to spend it all before the deadline. The federal law requires the dollars to be spent by the end of the year. Otherwise the county would lose the funding.

Some of the organizations that reported unspent funding include local governments. The City of Lawrence had about $300,000 of unspent funds that would have gone to its utility assistance program. According to county documents, the city saw a smaller applicant pool for the program than it expected. Meanwhile, Douglas County reported several programs receiving funding also came in under budget.

The commissioner initially considered just reallocating $530,000, but added another $120,000 to the pot after they declined to approve a funding adjustment from the City of Eudora. The city had requested the authority to move about $150,000 of its funding allotment to be used toward upgrading its emergency radio system.

While the upgrade would have been allowed under the regulations of the law, the commissioners all said they felt it was not appropriate. Noting city and county governments have ways to raise revenue, they suggested the funding should be redistributed to organizations with great needs.

“This money is for people who are facing challenges and crises in their lives,” Commissioner Michelle Derusseau said. “That needs to be our focus, as far as I’m concerned.”

The commissioners left about $30,000 from Eudora’s request to allow for the city to consider using it for other programs.

Next week, the county will likely need to make more reallocations because it does not yet know how much from the original plan has been left unspent.

Brooke Sauer, the county’s management information analyst, told the commissioners that about $14.5 million of the $24.9 million plan has so far been distributed, and only about $8.7 million of those funds have been reported as spent.

But Sauer said that number may be misleading because the deadline for the organizations to report the spending is Dec. 7. She said she expects that number to grow significantly on that date. For instance, the vast majority of the millions of dollars LMH Health is scheduled to spend has not been reported, but Sauer said she’s confident the hospital was using the money.

Because of that, the county will have a much better idea of how much outstanding funding exists after the reporting deadline, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said. She said she plans to have additional reallocation options for the commissioners to consider during their meeting on Dec. 9.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Awarded 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 owned by energy provider Evergy on an adjacent property to the north.

• Approved providing an additional $30,000 of 2021 fiscal year funding, for a total of $90,000, to Trinity In-Home Care, which will be used to provide in-home services to elderly county residents.

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