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Monday
November 23rd, 2020

county special meetingAdministrator April Warden listens as Seward County Counsel Nathan Foreman gives his opinion in regards to hiring a consultant to help the county with its distribution of $6.4 billion in funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund at Wednesday morning’s special commission meeting. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Seward County has been awarded funding in the amount of just more than $6.4 million through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF).

Wednesday morning, commissioners met to begin discussions as to how that money would be distributed, with the actual distribution expected to happen in the next few weeks.

Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey led the discussion and talked about the State of Kansas’ Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARKS) Task Force, which Monday released the amounts each county in Kansas would receive for the first of three rounds of funding under the CARES Act.

“The CRF money was allocated to states based on populations, with smaller populated states receiving a minimum of $1.25 billion, which is the amount the State of Kansas received, for distribution,” he said. “Local units of government that have populations in excess of 500,000 receive their money directly. In the state of Kansas, that was essentially Johnson County and Sedgwick County.”

McCaffrey said units of government with lower populations did not receive money directly, but rather through a formula established by the state.

“The money can only be used for expenditures related to COVID-19,” he said. “It cannot be used to fill revenue shortfalls. It must spent by Dec. 30, 2020.”

Governor Laura Kelly established the SPARKS team in May to help with recommendations for the distribution of $1.3 billion from the CRF allocated to the state.

 

The general purpose of the CRF is to address medical or public health needs to the emergency and provide economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruption due to COVID-19.

There are three rounds of funding, with each round designed to address different areas impacted by COVID-19.

“Round one will provide $400 million to county governments for public health expenditures in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” McCaffrey said. “Round one includes distribution of $350 million to county governments except those that had already received their money. Counties will receive at least $194 per person.”

McCaffrey said the task force’s executive committee recommended county governments receive money and be responsible for allocating and sharing funds with other local units of government.

“Round two will provide approximately $525 million for short-term and long-term opportunities to generate economic growth,” he said. “Round three will provide approximately $109 million for a possible reemergence of COVID-19 and further economic recovery. Round three will also include the allocation of any unspent funds returned from county governments after round one. Essentially, if a county does not spend the amount they are allocated by a certain date, they have to return that money to the State of Kansas.”

Funding announcements for rounds two and three will occur later, and these later rounds will be more focused on addressing economic impacts related to COVID-19.

McCaffrey said aside from Johnson County and Sedgwick County, only Finney County and Ford County received more money per person than Seward County. He added this was due to impacts suffered because of the presence of meat packing industries in those counties.

“It’s my opinion we were treated pretty fairly by the SPARKS Task Force in recognition of the impact this virus has had on our county, especially as it relates to the meat packing industry that’s present in our county,” he said. 

McCaffrey said there are a number of federal guidelines, rules and laws county officials need to be mindful of as they manage the funds.

“There’s a great deal of importance to making sure we handle this amount of money properly,” he said. 

Receipt of the funds, McCaffrey said, is subject to commission approval and acceptance of the funds by a resolution.

“This is a draft of a resolution that comes from the State of Kansas they would require us to enact before they would distribute the funds to us,” he said of a document handed out at Wednesday’s meeting. 

McCaffrey said a resolution was expected Friday, and the county will likely have another special meeting this week to pass the resolution in its final form.

“It’s going to require us to move very quickly in making decisions on how we’re going to allocate $6.4 million while still being in compliance with all of these federal rules and regulations and accounting procedures and forms while also cooperating with other local government entities such as the school district, the community college, the hospital, all of which could be seeking some of these funds,” he said. “There’s a great deal of expectation that counties will cooperate with the other local units of government to share these funds.”

McCaffrey said payroll reimbursement aspects of the distribution are in terms of local government entities and not private businesses.

Administrator April Warden said numbers are being tracked as to the expenses encountered by the county throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and she said work needs to be done on figures on some employees who had overtime during that time.

Commissioner Jim Rice said getting numbers about expenses incurred during the pandemic is of the utmost importance.

“Each county’s got their own particular needs, but I think the important thing is to make sure we can justify every expense we put on there,” he said.

McCaffrey said finding answers to the distribution problem is a matter that is quite complicated.

“There are a lot of moving pieces,” he said. “I don’t even think the State of Kansas has figured it out exactly what all of this means. I don’t know what the reporting requirements will be. I don’t know what the compliance requirements will be. I don’t know what the accounting aspects of this involve.”

Thus, Seward County will likely need to hire a consultant firm, which McCaffrey said is merely there to give advice on how to distribute the money.

“They don’t oversee the money,” he said. “They advise us in how we manage it and how we treat it, and they will offer a lot of assistance.”

County Counsel Nathan Foreman said bringing in the expertise of a consultant along with that of a law firm or a county would be invaluable.

“Otherwise, I think we’re going to be giving a lot of money back because we won’t know how to use it,” he said. “I think there are some clear ways we can use it for reimbursement that are clear cut, but I think it’s some of the more innovative uses we’re going to need help with.”

Warden said since different expenses use different funding, county officials need to make sure funding is not duplicated in other areas, particularly when it comes to helping other entities in the community.

“They will help us look for that,” she said. “They have already developed those practices, and they have done some innovative thinking. Not only are they working in the state of Kansas, but they’re working in other states. They’ve come up with some other ideas to help us the thinking process.”

Foreman said a number of resources are available online he and others have been looking at to try to educate themselves on the process.

“Locally, we’re trying to do as much as we can to know what ideas we can grab,” he said.

McCaffrey said regardless of whether a consultant is hired or not, the county is still in charge of choices made in distributing the money.

“Hiring an outside firm or consultant is not in any way giving up our responsibility locally to decide where our money goes and best be used,” he said. “Locally, that decision will always be ultimately ours as the county commission to approve all that. This money is not turned over to this agency. The services the consultant provides will help us do that quickly within compliance of the laws and as fairly as possible. We’re not passing that responsibility to somebody who doesn’t understand our county. We’re engaging the services of somebody who can help us make that decision process a lot better.”

McCaffrey said county officials are likely not the only ones wanting answers about the distribution.

“Members of the community, I’m sure, have their own questions about how this works, and we will try our best to answer those as we figure it out ourselves,” he said. “We certainly do not have all the answers right now. It is our intent to operate as openly and fairly as possible as we navigate the allocation of these funds.”

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