Ellis County to divvy up $5.74M; $8.3M in requests made

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News

The Ellis County committee handing out a windfall of $5.74 million in federal COVID-19 aid to the county has received 106 applications for the money.

Applications for direct aid totaled more than $1.4 billion, according to Ellis County administrator J.D. Cox, who presented the numbers at the regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission on Monday evening.

“Say that again,” said County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, when Cox announced the amount.

“1 billion, with a b,” Cox said.

“That’s what I thought you said,” Haselhorst said.

“Now if we throw out the ones that are probably ineligible, that brings us down to $8,267,494,” Cox said.

The deadline for applications was noon Monday.

The county’s plan for spending the money is due to the state of Kansas by Aug. 15. The 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.

“I was actually concerned we wouldn’t have enough requests,” said County Commissioner Dustin Roths. “We’ve blown past that, so now we have to tell some people ‘no.’ ”

The county commissioners will make the final decision as to who gets the money. They are set to meet at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 13 to decide.

A committee of 26 members assembled from the community by Cox are vetting the applications and will make recommendations to the commission.

That group meets next at 9 a.m. Wednesday via Zoom to talk about the next steps in the process, Cox said.

“The time frame is just incredibly short on this whole application process,” he said.

The applications break down into some broad categories, namely: $4.9 million in requests from business and for-profit entities; $1.2 million from nonprofits; $1.1 million for education; $547,000 for governmental needs; and $435,000 for public health and safety.

“I think what needs to happen is some additional culling, that’s what the group is going to take up,” Cox said, suggesting the committee might get help from the county’s economic development arm, Grow Hays, or another local entity that is versed in ranking applications for money.

“They have an application form where they take a look at the impact on the community,” Cox said of Grow Hays.

Roths supported that notion, citing Grow Hays’ experience with loan applications.

“They’ve seen it and they know how to go through the process,” he said. “I think they’re well enough connected in the community that I think they’ll do a wonderful job of getting the best bang for the buck.”

The goal of the state is to get the money pumped quickly into the local economy, Cox said.

“Hopefully we’ll move very quickly. When we came into this we were a little behind the other counties,” he said. “But now we’re caught up.”

Cox expects follow-up questions to some of the organizations that applied, noting there were wide variations in the applications and how much information they supplied to support their request.

“Some of these are a $300,000 application, it might have two sentences in support of it,” Cox said.

The committee decided previously it will set aside $1 million of the money for unforeseen contingencies related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some of the requests looked at for Round 1 could potentially be included in a Round 2, he said.

A preliminary announcement from the state said Round 2 money won’t go through the counties but directly to applicants for public health, economic development, connectivity and education, Cox said.

“The state is encouraging us to go ahead and take care of the local needs now, where it could be controlled,” Cox said. “And if folks are left out or come up short, then they can apply in Round 2.”

Besides Cox, members of the committee are Hays Medical Center president and CEO Eddie Herrman; Fort Hays State University president Tisa Mason; High Plains Mental Health Center executive director Walt Hill; Holy Family Elementary School principal Rachel Wentling; USD 489 superintendent Ron Wilson; Grow Hays executive director Doug Williams; Hays city manager Toby Dougherty; First Call for Help executive director Linda Mills; United Way of Ellis County executive director Erica Berges; Hays Area Chamber of Commerce director Sarah Wasinger; Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas president and CEO Jerry Michaud; county Extension agent Donna Krug; and Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Melissa Dixon.