Douglas County Commission reallocates a total of $290,000 of CARES funding, gives county staff authority to make more changes

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 has reallocated another $290,000 of unspent CARES Act funding to help make sure all of its $24.9 million are spent by the end of the year.

The commissioners also gave county staff the authority to make further changes to the funding plan when needed this month to help reach that goal.

During their meeting on Wednesday, the commissioners authorized reallocating $264,000 from various organizations that reported spending shortfalls to three hospitality organizations. Two of those organizations are the Lawrence Restaurant Association and Lawrence Live, both of which received an additional funding allocation — about $415,000 total — a week ago.

The commissioners added Explore Lawrence’s hotel support program to the group, giving the organization $100,000. Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said he wanted to include the program this week because he learned the county’s hotel and lodging industry has been hit hard during the pandemic. According to a memo to the commissioners, the industry has seen a 46% decrease in revenue this year compared to 2019.

While the commissioners have already made reallocations to hospitality groups previously, Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she wanted to do it again because those businesses are suffering and do not have other revenue streams.

“We have a whole sector hanging on by a thread,” Thellman said. “If they go down, then we lose a tremendous engine for our economy.”

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

The Douglas County Commission discusses reallocations of CARES Act funding with county staff during a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.

The remaining $25,000 that was reallocated on Wednesday went to the Unified Command’s wellbeing outreach campaign, which aims to provide county residents with messages of hope and inform them of ways to cope with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Moving forward, the county may need to make more reallocations to make sure all of the funds are spent, but will likely not have time for the commissioners to consider, said County Administrator Sarah Plinsky. With that in mind, the commissioners gave her the authority to make the reallocations herself, making the hospitality industry a priority.

The county has distributed about $17 million of the funding, $14 million of which has been reported as spent. While there is still millions to go before all of the funds are spent, county staff said spending reports are still coming in daily.

Any funds that are not spent by the end of the year will be returned to the state to be used elsewhere. However, Plinsky said the state plans to use returned CARES dollars to supplement its unemployment fund, which is providing aid to many county residents during the pandemic.

“If we have funds we are not able to redistribute, it’s certainly going to a very worthy cause that’s helping Douglas County residents,” Plinsky said.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved Cody Taylor’s request to rezone 3.5 acres of land at 145 E. 1250 Road from general business to transitional agriculture, also known as Ag-2. The property is located just west of U.S. Highway 59 in southern Douglas County.

According to planning documents, Taylor said he planned to build a home on the property and did not intend to use the land for business purposes.

• Approved Garber Enterprises Inc. request to rezone about 11.5 acres of land at the 1700 block of East 902 Road from cluster development to Ag-2. The property is located just outside of Lawrence’s city limits, north of Rock Chalk Park.

Garber Enterprises holds a conditional use permit for the property that did not conform with the cluster development zoning. The permit, which the County Commission awarded in 2017, is for mini-storage use.

• Approved a 2021 legislative statement that outlines the county’s priorities for the Kansas Legislature to consider during its upcoming session. The statement lists the county’s priorities as continued financial support for the planned behavioral health crisis and recovery center and providing funding for the planned expansion of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

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