OSWEGO — Labette County will receive $3.9 million in federal COVID-19 recovery funding through the state, Labette County commissioners heard Monday.

Charlie Morse, Labette County Emergency Preparedness director, updated commissioners on the federal money distributed by the Kansas Office of Recovery. The federal government allocated $1.25 billion to Kansas from the CARES Act. Counties with a population of more than 500,000 received a share of this pool directly. The rest of the counties will receive an apportioned share based on population. Gov. Laura Kelly formed SPARK, the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas Task Force, to help develop a way to distribute the money. SPARK came up with a three-phased approach. The first round will provide $400 million in direct aid to counties. The second phase will include $310 to $525 million for public and private entities in August. The third phase will provide $9 to $324 million to public and private entities in October, Morse told commissioners.

Phase one funding can be used on any COVID-19-related expense, Morse said. The state plan is to infuse money into the state economy. Labette County’s funding amount will be $3,983,559. Counties have until Oct. 1 to spend phase one money, he said.

Morse said the state is working on a universal resolution that can be adopted by Kansas counties that accept the money.

Commissioner Doug Allen, who attended the meeting for Morse’s discussion by phone, has been working to improve security in the courthouse in Oswego and is having those plans updated for new safety measures to protect county employees because of the pandemic. Morse said this project may be eligible for the funding.

Commissioners asked how else the money could be used. Morse said it could be shared with businesses, schools, cities, the hospital. Commissioners seemed interested in sharing funding to support Labette Health and its clinics. 

Commissioner Fred Vail asked how the county or whoever received the money would have to document how the money was spent. Morse said that’s still be worked out.

Morse said he received a request from day care operators in Chetopa who may be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak at Chetopa Manor, with 11 facility staff sent home, as well as others who may have had contact with them. Morse said the day care operators may seek some help so they don’t have to close permanently because of the crisis.

County Counselor Brian Johnson asked Morse, who commissioners placed in charge of the county’s distribution of the money, if businesses that received the benefit of previous federal programs related to the pandemic would be on a waiting list or could qualify immediately for some of this additional funding. Morse said he didn’t know of any restrictions on distribution.

Commissioner Lonie Addis said he would prefer seeing as much of the money as possible going into health care.

Johnson suggested some of the money could go for improvements to the courtrooms in the county. Commissioner Allen said he could see using the money for physical barriers but not for personnel. 

Morse said the commission will have to decide if they want to set up an application process or just give the money out.

Vail suggested the administration should be as easy as possible to save Morse work. Morse said he would learn more about the funding this week.

Phase one funding to be received by other Southeast Kansas counties: Neosho, $3,202,912; Cherokee, $4,049,370; Montgomery, $6,527,793; Crawford, $7,802,835; and Wilson, $1,774,957.

In another matter, commissioners met with Jennifer Eichinger, owner of Jennifer L. Eichinger, CPA, 1816 Main, regarding pictures taken inside her office during a hearing with the county’s commercial appraiser.

Eichinger was concerned about the photos being taken without her knowledge or authority and that photos taken may show confidential information. Commissioner Addis said appraisal staff should have received permission from the business owner before taking the pictures inside and that the commission would investigate. Pictures taken outside a business were common and would not require permission. Some of the pictures taken inside the CPA business, if not all, were sent to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals on an appraisal issue for the building. Eichinger said she wanted to know who took the pictures, when they were taken and she wanted the pictures. She wanted commissioners to resolve the issue so it wouldn’t happen again. Johnson, the county counselor, wanted commissioners to move cautiously in the matter.

Appraiser DeLinda White said the commercial appraiser had an appointment with Eichinger for an informal hearing on the appraisal issue. Eichinger said she didn’t give consent for interior pictures and neither did her staff. She didn’t know the pictures had been taken until receiving notice for the BOTA hearing. Commissioners later met with White and the commercial appraiser in closed session. No action followed.

Commissioner Addis said later that the county is going to create a permission form that appraisers can give to business owners to sign before taking interior pictures. When asked if the county employee had permission to take pictures he said that question was not resolved yet.

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