Ellis County to hold Zoom meeting on $5.74M virus relief fund

Margaret Allen

Representatives of government, business, schools, social services and health care in Ellis County will meet virtually via Zoom on Monday to figure out the process for spending $5.74 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The federal CARES Act is sending more than $1 billion in local relief to Kansas, passed to the counties through Gov. Laura Kelly’s SPARK task force.

Each county is required to file a spending plan with the state by Aug. 15.

“We’re on a pretty short time frame here,” said Grow Hays executive director Doug Williams, who said Wednesday that the county’s economic development arm that he heads was invited to be part of the Zoom call.

Hays city manager Toby Dougherty confirmed the city also will have a representative on the call.

“The county administrator organized a group of representatives from various entities and will use the group as the filter and facilitator to help determine the best way to spend the $5.74 million,” Dougherty said.

The money comes with some loose guidelines, but the state is still fine-tuning those, Dougherty said.

“The federal legislation says it can be used for COVID-related expenses only, not to replace lost revenue or for something that was already budgeted,” he said.

Besides direct COVID-related expenses, Dougherty said, it’s likely there will be expenses down the road that aren’t even anticipated yet.

“At first blush, $5.74 million seems like a lot of money, but when you look at the intended recipients and some ways they may have to modify what they do in the future, it’s probably not going to be much money,” he said.

The local committee will make sure the eligible entities know the money is available, solicit applications and requests, prioritize them, and make recommendations to the Ellis County Commission, Dougherty said.

Expenditures don’t have to be made until the end of the year, he said, but the plan is due soon.

“There’s going to have to be a lot of work done pretty quickly to get a plan lined out,” he said.

Ellis County Commission chairman Butch Schlyer and his two fellow commissioners on Monday agreed with a suggestion from county administrator J.D. Cox to put together the committee to sort out where the money should go.

“We don’t have time to do lots of town halls and that kind of thing, so I think doing the think tank seems to be what all the other counties are doing,” Cox told the commissioners during their regular Monday evening meeting at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

“I’d like to do what several of the other counties that I’ve been in contact with, and put together a think tank of folks in the community to assist us with determining the best ways in which we can expend that $5.7 million,” Cox told the commissioners.

"As you said, Mr. Chairman, a moment ago, we want to absolutely make sure that the needs to deal with this crisis at the county level are first fulfilled,“ he told the commissioners. "Then whatever else we can do to help the greater community, we would take that into consideration. There’s all sorts of different perspectives that could be taken under consideration.”

“Just so the group is a good representation of Ellis County,” Schlyer said.

Cox told the county commissioners on Monday that he would report back to them at their regular 5 p.m. meeting this coming Monday in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

The commission passed one resolution to accept the money and a second to establish a revenue fund to deposit and track the funding.

Cox said Thursday the Monday Zoom meeting is to figure out how to communicate with eligible entities in the county, ensure compliance with federal regulations and prioritize requests.

The county has set up the email EllisCARES@ellisco.net to receive requests, he said.

A second follow-up meeting will be held after that, said Cox.

Williams said he’s been calling his peers around the state to see how other counties are allocating the money. The schools seem like one possibility, he said.

“They are facing some clear challenges with this, so that would make sense to me,” Williams said.

Cox said other entities invited to have one representative attend the Zoom meeting will represent the cities in Ellis County, schools, the chamber of commerce, economic development, health care, higher education, mental health, community assistance, the county, programming and helpline.