Ellis County to get $5.5M windfall

Margaret Allen

Ellis County will get an estimated windfall of $5.5 million from federal CARES Act COVID-19 relief money.

Interim county administrator Darin Myers broke the news to the Ellis County Commissioners at their regular meeting Monday evening.

“I’m going to save the best news for last,” Myers said, taking his turn to give his weekly report as the nearly three-hour meeting neared its close.

“I still find it kind of hard to believe, but they’re looking at a per-person amount,” Myers said. “I really hate to say the amount because, like I say, it’s just too hard to believe, $194 a person, which would mean roughly Ellis County would get about a $5.5 million payment.”

The money is being passed down to the state through Gov. Laura Kelly’s SPARK recovery taskforce.

“I mean that’s 25% of our budget, so it’s a significant amount of money,” Myers said. “Until that’s actually official, I don’t want to plan on anything.”

The money comes as Ellis County Commissioners the past couple years try to outrun an ongoing budget crisis by aggressively squeezing county spending.

They also won voter approval for a half-cent in countywide sales taxes that start Oct. 1 to back $5.485 million in general obligation bonds for overdue road and bridge work, and also are discussing hiking the mill levy.

The State Finance Council this week approved $400 million in CARES Act money be distributed to Kansas counties. It’s divvied up by population and COVID-19 economic hardship.

Myers told the commissioners the state sent him spending guidance Monday.

“l’ll be doing some work on being able to figure out what can be expended out of that money,” he said. “It has to be spent on certain items and it has to be spent by a certain date, so it’s something that we won’t be able to just sit on and not spend. It has to be reimbursable or tied to a certain item.”

The funding must go 50/50 to reimburse COVID-19-related expenses and direct aid to counties, according to the state.

SPARK and the State Finance Council are encouraging counties to share the money with cities, school districts and businesses.

Counties are asked to report to the state by August how they’ll spend the money.

“That is a welcome amount of money,” Myers said.

Ellis County’s budget in 2021 alone will lose about $500,000 from a drop in oil valuation as the pandemic seized up global oil consumption.

“Darin,” said Commissioner Dustin Roths, “you might tell us those numbers before our meeting next time so we don’t have heart attacks up here.”

“I have to finish my last possible interim meeting up here with some good news,” said Myers, referencing the commissioners have closed in on a candidate to fill the vacant county administrator position.

A second round of CARES Act funding starts in August, probably $525 million for Kansas, according to SPARK.

Any money the state doesn’t spend by Dec. 30 goes back to the feds.

Brianna Childers, Topeka-Capital-Journal, contributed to this report.