Rushed by a short and looming deadline from the state of Kansas, huge private business requests, evolving state guidelines on the program and sometimes the barest of details on the applications, the Ellis County Commissioners on Thursday morning awarded $5.7 million in federal COVID-19 funding.
The commissioners sat in special session Thursday to decide how the windfall would be sorted.
They didn’t change too much from what was recommended by the 26 volunteer members of the CARES committee.
Rushed into existence a couple weeks ago at first news of the $5.74 million coming to the county, the committee marketed the program, took applications, found subcommittees to review the applications, then made final funding recommendations to the commissioners.
There were way more requests than money.
During its few weeks in existence, the CARES committee whittled down $11 million in requests from businesses, nonprofits, schools and local governments in Ellis County.
The largest requests, by far, came from businesses and for-profit entities, about $4.9 million. In the end, the commissioners approved 56 local businesses to share in about $753,530. That final list was not available at press time.
Requests from local nonprofit agencies, which Commissioner Dustin Roths said appeared to be minimal asks, totaled more than $1.5 million.
The commissioners fully funded all those requests, as recommended by the CARES committee.
The county's plan for spending the money is due to the state of Kansas by Aug. 15. Final day for amendments is Sept. 15.
The federal money, which is being funneled to counties through the state, must be spent before Dec. 30.
County commissioners at the session Thursday added in a new ambulance for Ellis County’s EMS department fleet, shaving that money from the money allocated to businesses.
With $200,000, EMS can purchase an available showroom model, said Roths, and have the deal done by the state’s December deadline.
Roths said he bristled at some of the requests from businesses. Where nonprofit applications cited requests down to pennies and dimes, that was not the case with some of the businesses, which had multiple zeroes.
"Some of these asks on the for-profits were almost laughable to me," Roths said.
In the end, he said, he wished the nonprofits had been able to ask for larger sums.
"Frankly, it seems like everything on here is reasonable," Roths said, looking at the nonprofit awards. "It’s actually under what I think they should have asked."
He cited as an example Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas and the disabled adults it serves.
"I wished I could give them more money," Roths said. "They are a lean organization. I know what they pay people. You have to love the job, because you are not making enough money to have a living wage. These people work their butt off for some of the most vulnerable people in our society."
He noted also the Hays Senior Center. Seed money for a land purchase for a bigger building, for example, could have been justified on grounds there’s a need for that vulnerable population to social distance.
In contrast, one local nightclub checked the box for "serves an at-risk population," Roths said.
"I struggled with alcohol as being something we subsidized," he said. "I know a few liquor store owners that have done extremely well through this process."
Lobbying for the nonprofits, Roths asked "Can we offer them more? Can we do something to make this more equitable?"
But getting complicated purchases wrapped up by the rushed December deadline is the problem, said county administrator J.D. Cox and others on the CARES committee, who were at the meeting.
0 for oil field
Most of the private sector money is going to businesses in the retail sector, as well as the hospitality industry, whose business was off 80% in March and April, according to Grow Hays executive director Doug Williams.
Williams explained to the commissioners that the reviewing subcommittee saw restaurants, hotels and retail stores as those taking the most direct hit from COVID-19.
Likewise, the hospitality sector has significant needs for personal protective equipment to continue operating, he said.
Commissioner Dean Haselhorst thanked the committee for taking on an impossible task, but lamented the lack of money to the oil sector. Ellis County is the state’s No. 1 oil producer.
"I can tell you for a fact, the oil field business was off 100%. We take zero consideration about the oilfield in Ellis County. That’s what funds this county. That’s what funds this city," Haselhorst said. "Dan Hess up there, 350 people up there he employs, and wanting to grow more. That’s a hell of a business for Ellis County. And again, zero consideration towards the oil field."
Haselhorst continued, apparently referencing some of the six-figure requests from restaurants and hotels.
"Some of these asks, I think, are off-the-wall," he said. "They’re just off-the-wall."
"There’s nothing fair about it," Williams said.
"It’s an impossible task of all of you guys put together that served on that committee," Haselhorst said. "There’s not an easy answer for nobody ... it’s an impossible task to do it fair. It just is. At the end of the day we’re going to be the bad guys."
Only seven oil field companies applied, and five had a common owner, Williams said.
"We tried to come up with the fairest system we could," he said, "knowing it’s not going to be fair at the end of the day no matter what we do really."
"The whole program is an imperfect program. It’s the absolute opposite of what we’d want to go through to figure out a fair system to come up with all of this," Cox added, noting it does serve the purpose of the feds primary goal. "The main goal is to inject money immediately into the economy."
The commissioners approved the recommendations for:
Nonprofits: First Call for Help, $20,000 and $17,560; Hays Rec Commission, $47,550; Good Samaritan Society, $64,103 and $15,130; and United Way, $11,500, $15,000 and $4,650.
Hays Chamber, $41,286; DSNWK, $28,500; Wild West Fest, $75,000; Ellis Knights of Columbus, $8,160; Homestead Nutrition Project, $79,248; and Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center, $74,659.
High Plains Mental Health, $11,800; MCH Home Visiting, $4,450; USD 489 Foundation, $75,000; Ellis Recreation Commission, $2,475; Ellis County Fair, $56,905; First Care Clinic, $143,177; and Grow Hays, $127,080.
Hays Area Children's Center, $22,990; Hays 1st Presbyterian, $80,000 and $17,342; Jana's Campaign, $9,987; Big Brothers Big Sisters, $4,491 and $20,775; Cancer Council, $6,000; and Celebration Community Church, $24,700 for sharing with all area churches.
Options Domestic and Sexual Violence, $66,876; Downtown Hays Development Corp., $59,000 and $22,149; St. Joseph's Church Food Pantry, $10,000; Hays Senior Center, $4,967; and Center for Life Experience, $10,000.
St. Boniface Church, $13,500; Project Dream, $15,000; Smoky Hill Education, $39,790; NW Kansas Area Agency on Aging, $69,781; Kiwanis, $23,000; Community Foundation of Ellis, $5,136; Victoria High School Alumni, $5,584; KVC Hospitals, $26,421; and Foster the Cause, $34,700.
Government reimbursements: Ellis County, $116,464; Hays, $58,529; Ellis, $8,233; and Victoria, $351.
School reimbursements: USD 489, Hays, $179,300; USD 388, Ellis, $42,925; and NCK Tech, $94,383.
City government expected needs: Hays, $234,800; Schoenchen, $83,600; Victoria, $66,765; and Ellis, $15,299.
Education expected needs: Fort Hays State University, $46,500 and $100,000; TMP-Marian High School, $283,504; USD 432, Victoria, $108,609; Holy Family Elementary, $5,000; and FHSU's Sternberg Museum, $79,484.
Ellis County, $2M: $1.5 million for public safety records management system and computer-aided dispatch system to update system installed in 1992 at the Ellis County Law Enforcement Center, 105 W. 12th St.
The system will be shared by all the county's public safety and law enforcement agencies, and those of its cities. That impacts 11 public safety agencies and five governmental entities, including Fort Hays State University, the cities of Hays, Victoria, Ellis and Schoenchen, Ellis County, the local and rural fire departments, EMS, Hays Police Department, Ellis County Sheriff's Department and the Ellis County Health Department.
Besides the ambulance, the money also includes contact tracers, an assistant EMS director and administrative assistant, remote ballot drop offs, four ventilators, laptops and licensing, a generator, personal protective equipment for county departments, respirators, iPads, plexiglass, Trail Pad software, AppleTV HD, HVAC air purifiers, audit costs, ionized sprayers, video conference equipment, respirators, a Clorox 360 machine and postage.