Groups vie to administer federal funds

Thrive Allen County and the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission both proposed serving as stewards for Allen County's $2.4 million in federal stimulus funds. Commissioners will decide in the next couple of weeks.

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August 25, 2021 - 9:46 AM

Lisse Regher, CEO Thrive Allen County, talks with commissioners about potentially administering $2.4M in federal stimulus made available through the American Rescue Plan Act. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Who will serve as steward for Allen County’s $2.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal stimulus funds?

Thrive Allen County and the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission both made their case for being that entity at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Lisse Regher, CEO Thrive, spoke about previously serving as administrator for $2.4 million in federal CARES Act funds, but pointed out how significantly more time exists for planning how to spend the county’s ARPA dollars, which has until 2024.

Taylor Hogue and Matt Godinez, of the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, discuss the possibility of administering American Rescue Plan Act funds.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

“This gives us time as a community to really look toward the future and see what it is we should be invested in,” she said, and explained how Thrive’s administration plan involves creating a central steering committee as well as multiple task force groups focused on health, infrastructure, economic development, social services and food access.

Thrive’s fee for administering the ARPA dollars would be 4% of the total $2.4 million.

Matt Godinez and Taylor Hogue, of the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, likewise gave their pitch for overseeing the funds, and talked about vetting proposed projects in order to ease commissioners’ workloads.

Godinez is also director of the Chanute Regional Development Authority.

Godinez listed multiple counties and cities that were receiving the regional planning’s assistance, including Coffey County and Yates Center.

The Regional Planning’s fee for administering the ARPA dollars would be 5% of the $2.4 million.

Commissioners did not vote on which entity will serve to administer the funds, but a decision should be forthcoming after the next couple weeks.

Commissioner Bruce Symes, right, reads a document during Tuesday’s commission meeting, while commissioner David Lee, left, listens to a speaker.Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

VARIOUS groups and entities have already approached the county for spending ideas in connection with ARPA, including KwiKom, who had representatives on hand Tuesday to pitch a future project.

Eric Vogel and John Terry shared a proposal to expand Gigafiber in Allen County, where the total cost of the project would run around $1 million.

Vogel added, however, that the company was “willing to partner at whatever level” the county desired, were they to pursue the proposal.

IN ADDITION to discussing the administration of ARPA funds, Thrive’s economic development director, Jonathon Goering, shared bids for conducting a labor study in Allen County that would generate data useful for a number of purposes.

According to Goering, the study would provide “a sense of what the labor force truly is,” as opposed to making assumptions about its composition.

Though commissioners did not make a decision on which entity to contract, Goering recommended the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University study. The county’s cost would be $9,214. 

Evergy energy company has already agreed to contribute $8,000 to the labor study, and the City of Iola has agreed to contribute $1,500.

It is possible that ARPA stimulus dollars also could be used to fund the study as well.

EMERGENCY manager Jason Trego spoke with commissioners about extreme temperatures, and noted that Allen County is facing a heat advisory until 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Additionally, Trego shared information he’d gathered on storm shelters, and talked about different specifications that facilities across the county might need, such as escape openings and fire extinguishers.

Commissioners gave Trego the green light to start seeking bids for shelter installation focusing in the county’s unincorporated communities.

Mitch Garner, public works director, said crews continue to work on chip and seal repairs across the county.

The Elsmore/Savonburg area was finished Monday. Next in line is the 1800-2000/Nebraska Road area.

Garner also said the county’s rock crusher was up and running again, despite still needing repairs/replacement parts.

IN OTHER news, Phil Drescher of Bukaty Company, Kansas City, spoke with commissioners about the county’s health insurance and early outcomes related to switching providers to Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Drescher said the decision had already saved the county money, especially because of specific employees who had needed to spend significant dollars on medical/prescription drug costs.

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