OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Controversy about how Overland Park is using $350,000 in CARES Act money is heating up after Johnson County commissioners found out more information about how the money will be used that wasn’t included in the city’s request.
According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the federal economic relief package is meant to protect the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
It reads, ‘The CARES Act provides fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses, and preserve jobs for our American industries.”
But some believe one particular request from Overland Park is a money grab, while others say it fits the spirit and guidelines of the CARES Act.
The request in question: Overland Park asked Johnson County for $350,000 in CARES Act money for video broadcasting capabilities.
But there’s no mention the money would be used to broadcast youth soccer games online from Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex with a user fee that would go to the city.
Under a profit-sharing agreement with Musco Sports Lighting, the company would provide video services for 30% of the revenue, and Overland Park would get 70% of the profits from pay-per-view, streaming and downloads of sporting events.
Those details came as a surprise to Johnson County commissioners who approved the request
“Ultimately our necks are on the line on this,” one county commissioner said during Thursday night’s meeting.
Overland Park City Councilman Chris Newlin voted for and still supports moving forward with the project.
“If there was a question of what that meant, that certainly could’ve been asked,” he said.
Newlin is one of 10 city council members who voted to move forward with the Scheels plan after the county approved the CARES Act request.
But Councilman Dr. Faris Farassati, who voted against it, disagrees.
“Did we intentionally hide the information because we thought that it’s not matching the description of what the federal government and the county is looking for in terms of relationships to COVID, or it was an administrative mistake?” Farassati asked.
Overland Park communications manager Sean Reilly said submitting federal grant requests to the county is a new process and admits the city’s benefit goes beyond immediate COVID-19 needs.
“It will help right away with those who are following the COVID protocol but afterwards is an additional benefits as well as the city of Overland Park attempts to attract regional and national soccer tournaments,” Reilly said. “By doing that we bring in outside visitors or tourist to stay in Overland Park hotels, to spend over money in Overland Park businesses, so they bring in revenue.”
“I was worried about it, and this is a confirmation that my worries were correct,” Farassati said. “There is absolutely no reason, either ethical or logical reason, that COVID relief fund would come to the health of Overland Park to make profit in the future.”
Newlin understands how some people could think the city’s request is a money grab but said it’s not because, “CARES Act was purposely put out to give municipalities in this phase, abilities to upgrade their facilities and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Johnson County commissioners are considering clawing back their approval for the funds.
If not, Farassati and fellow councilman Scott Hamblin plan on making a similar motion at the next city council meeting Nov. 2.