OSWEGO — Labette County Commission Chairman Lonie Addis began signing agreements Monday with recipients that will receive a slice of the federal money the county received to reimburse for COVID-19-related expenses.
The county received $3,983,558.77 from the state’s SPARK program (Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas), which is distributing the federal pandemic relief money. The money can be used to reimburse for COVID-19-related expenses or for projects tied to the pandemic. Local businesses or organizations will have until the end of the year to spend the money or to substantially complete funded projects. Applications for this funding are available on the city of Parsons website, parsonsks.com, or by emailing Jim Zaleski, the city of Parsons economic development director, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zaleski and Laura Moore, the city of Parsons community development director, are helping the county manage the program. The city is getting reimbursed $100,000 from SPARK funds for its services. Zaleski mentioned Monday he and Moore would like help with bookkeeping and commissioners suggested the county contract with an accountant or bookkeeper to track spending of entities receiving money. All spending needs to be tracked and receipts collected to assure it is used on pandemic-related items. Zaleski suggested someone could work three to four hours a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday because Zaleski didn’t think he or Moore would have time on such a large program.
Commissioners thought that bookkeeping help was needed, and the county has about $95,000 available from SPARK funds for administrative expenses that could be used to pay for this service.
Zaleski used a request from Wesley United Methodist Church as an example of the paperwork involved. Wesley applied for $9,725 from the local food bank support program, a pool of $161,911 set aside to benefit community meal or food providers. Wesley wants to increase its once-a-month grab-and-go food distribution in the King Cash Saver parking lot to a weekly distribution. But this will take additional money to purchase take-out containers, warmers and other materials to make the distribution go smoothly on Thursdays. Wesley will provide receipts for purchases to account for money received. The spending cap for food banks getting support through Nov. 10 is $10,000, meaning the county could help another 15 recipients with that program, and all those expenses would have to be tracked as well. There are three other programs — economic support, senior and child care help and connectivity assistance — that will dole out $737,589.11 and each of the projects funded will need expenses tracked to assure they are for COVID-19 needs and to account for every penny.
Commissioner Doug Allen thought contracting with a third party would be good to track spending separate from what Zaleski and Moore are doing.
Zaleski said he submitted the county’s spending plan to the Kansas Department of Commerce’s online portal in August and heard back on Friday about it. SPARK task force members included seven points for the county to consider in the plan to spend the $3.9 million.
Mostly the points reminded the county to make sure it had a well qualified plan for how applicants would apply and be selected and provide adequate administrative oversight on the spending. The response provided some details on how payroll could be reimbursed under the program (one example, employees testing positive for COVID-19, in quarantine or caring for a child in quarantine or isolation could qualify for reimbursement) and raised questions on work to be done at Labette Health (see below).
The county must reconcile spending each month starting Oct. 7 and by Nov. 10’s reconciliation the commission will reevaluate the plan to see what money is left and decide how to spend it. All funds need to be spent by Dec. 30 or returned to the state, and the final reconciliation is Jan. 20, 2021.
Zaleski said he was pleased with the comments from the SPARK task force.
The money will be doled out in three areas: Reimbursements, transfers and program support.
Reimbursements are to replace money already spent on projects or equipment. Transfers are paid directly to entities for projects to be completed by Dec. 30. The four programs are to help as many businesses and organizations or service providers as possible with pandemic-related expenses. The county will receive a portion of the money for court and courthouse improvements.
Reimbursements total $415,862.59. The county received $33,314.11 of that. Cities (Parsons, Altamont, Mound Valley, Chetopa, Oswego and Edna) requested reimbursements for pandemic-tied spending, as did Parsons USD 503, Oswego USD 504, Chetopa USD 505 and Labette County USD 506.
Labette Community College ($103,525.98) and Labette Center for Mental Health Services ($17,076.85) asked for reimbursements as well.
The county will use $714,000 for future spending for court, courthouse and other building improvements. Another $1,870,637.30 will be used in Altamont, Chetopa, Oswego, Edna, Parsons, Mound Valley, USD 505, Labette Health and Labette Center for Mental Health Services for pandemic-related spending.
The four program areas (mentioned above) will use $899,500.11 of the SPARK money.
Labette Health will receive $1.25 million of that $1.87 million.
Zaleski and commissioners visited with Brian Williams, hospital CEO, about the projects at the hospital, one of which is updating the central plant to improve air quality and air handling.
The hospital plans to spend $922,652 for the central plant, and the SPARK task force didn’t know if the hospital could get the work substantially completed by Dec. 30. Dates on the original plan may have created confusion, but Williams said the work is already started and should be completed by late December. He also provided documentation related to the plans and bids received to meet federal rules.
The hospital is undergoing an $18.4 million renovation and upgrade that will create an orthopedic surgical area and add on to the third floor of the hospital.
Williams said hospital trustees approved the renovation budget in February and in April, after the pandemic, agreed to pursue the central plant improvements so that the hospital can have rooms for COVID-19 patients. Pandemic patients need to be kept in rooms with negative air flow, meaning air from these rooms cannot be redistributed throughout the facility.
A negative air room will be added to the ER, the obstetrics area and the ICU. Williams said these rooms would not be completed by Dec. 30 but the central plant improvements, including the infrastructure to make the rooms work as designed, would be.
Now, when a potential COVID-19 patient comes to ER, air conditioning has to be shut off in all rooms.
“Because it recirculates the air and potentially you can cross contaminate the patients,” Williams said. “It gets a little hot in there.”
He said Two North has two negative air rooms on the medical surgical floor. More was needed.
“COVID had us take a deeper dive and a deeper look at that. So that’s why we need this project,” Williams said. ... “We’re trying to add negative air rooms because we have a problem with air quality in a pandemic. And we already had a construction project going.”
Williams said Labette Health and other hospitals have benefited from federal COVID-19 funding already and he’s keenly aware of the need to track every penny to avoid the risk of double-dipping, or using two funding streams for the same project.
To address the concerns from the SPARK task force, Williams was going to write a memo based on Monday’s discussion and reflecting that the central plant work is already underway and should be done by Dec. 30. He would also point out that the pandemic created the need to improve the central plant.
Commissioners and County Counselor Brian Johnson thought this would be sufficient.
The hospital also plans on spending $199,500 for a UV cleaning unit.
Commissioners voted to allow Addis to sign memorandums of understanding between the county and the entities receiving SPARK money. He signed a number of MOUs.
Zaleski had digital versions from the city of Mound Valley, Labette Health, Labette Community College, the city of Altamont, Parsons USD 503 and the city of Chetopa. The city of Edna approved its MOU but a page was missing and needs included before Addis could sign it. Wesley and the Parsons Recreation Commission also have MOUs.
Once Addis signs the MOUs, the county clerk’s office will issue a check to the entities, probably within two days.
Normally, these checks would be issued after the commission approves accounts payable, but commissioners didn’t want the entities to wait to receive reimbursements or transfers because of the short time table to get projects completed.
Zaleski said he had 80% of the MOUs in place and is ready to discuss projects to fund food bank, economic development, senior and child care and connectivity initiatives. He encouraged organizations to email him (email@example.com) to get a packet and begin a conversation on the application process.
The PRC sought $11,191.84 in reimbursements in its economic development application, but the limit is $5,000, so that’s the amount approved. If there is money left in the program on Nov. 10, the remaining amount requested could be revisited.
Zaleski said a local industry is interested in a connectivity grant to have a video check-in gate for trucks delivering goods to limit employee contact with truckers from out of state.
After brief public hearings, during which no member of the public raised questions, the commission approved the county’s 2021 total budget of $15,409,215 supported by a tax levy of 61.538 mills, which would generate $8,654,693. The 2021 levy is down from this year’s levy of 61.561 mills.
The owner of a $75,000 home will pay $530.76 to support the county’s operations for 2021, a decrease of 30 cents.
The commission also approved the special district spending for 2021 totaling $415,531 supported by $159,016 in property taxes. The special districts include the Neosho Drainage District, Labette No. 9 Fire District, two townships and five cemeteries.