Shawnee leaders consider ways to spend $7 million in federal COVID relief money

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — Shawnee city leaders will soon have to decide how to spend more than $7 million in federal relief money. 

In March, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that provided $1.9 trillion in economic stimulus earmarked for public health and economic recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Don Cawby, finance director for the city of Shawnee, said under the ARPA the city will receive a total of $7,564,030 in federal relief funding. Cawby said the city received the first half of the funding in May and is expecting another payment of $3,782,015, in May of 2022. 

The relief money can be used to support the city’s COVID response, infrastructure projects or grant opportunities for nonprofits and area businesses.  Monday night city leaders reviewed potential projects that can be funded using ARAP dollars. Proposed project options range in price from $75,000 to $1.5 million.  

Health Proposals: 

Mental Health Co-Responders: Staff suggest allocating roughly $750,000 to hire two additional mental health co-responders for the Shawnee Police Department.  The city currently has one co-responder with additional money dedicated in the 2022 budget to hire a second co-responder.

This proposal adds two mental health responders to the department for a total of four.  The funding would cover the cost of two additional co-responders for 2022, 2023 and 2024. In 2025, the city would be responsible for fully funding the new positions. 

“Mental health is actually one of the very large pieces of ARPA funding. It fits in 100 percent of ARPA funding. I knew there was a potential of using ARPA funds for these positions, which is why we didn’t ask for them in the general fund budget,” Shawnee Police Chief Sam Larson said. 

Mental health co-responders handle 911 assessments that include all active calls or contact with a law enforcement officer that relates to mental health. According to city documents, Shawnee Co-Responders conducted 150 assessments in 2019; 330 assessments in 2020 and 172 assessments in the first six months of 2021. 

Infrastructure Proposals: 

Sewer and Stormwater Repair: The city has the option to allocate roughly $1,500,000 to relocate and upsize a stormwater pipe in the downtown area near Splash Cove, 5700 King, and the First Baptist Church. 

Staff estimate $250,000 in federal funding could be used to extend the existing sanitary sewer line into Shawnee Town 1929. The project would include the construction of a new sanitary sewer line and connecting exhibiting services for the Visitor’s Center to the new mainline to be in compliance with Johnson County Wastewater standards. 

Internet Buildout: The city will consider allocating $750,000 to complete fiber internet connections to all city facilities, parks and traffic signals. 

Sidewalk Improvements: Federal funding may be used for sidewalk improvements along Johnson Driver. An estimated $1million could be used to connect the Valley of Champions area to Lackman Road. Shawnee Police have recommended the project be approved to provide better pedestrian access to and from the Justice Center and Municipal Court. 

Grants: 

Hotel Capital Project Grants: Roughly $500,000 in funding may be used to assist hotels in Shawnee with facility improvements. If the grant is approved, hotel owners would cover the initial cost of the project, then submit receipts to the city for reimbursement. The proposed grant could provide up to $100,000 per hotel. 

Grants for nonprofits: The city council will consider options to issue one-time grants for nonprofits within the city including Shawnee Community Services, Mercy and Truth Medical Missions and Sunflower House. City staff have not designated an amount for the grant. 

Marketing for tourism: City leaders will consider allocating $75,000 to the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce for the marketing of local tourism, sports tournaments and downtown events.  

Downtown Development: Councilmember Eric Jenkins has suggested using a portion of ARPA funds to create a downtown development fund. No dollar amount was assigned to this proposal. Depending on the level of funding, the money could also be used to create a landbank that would allow the city to purchase property and then be able to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for development in specific areas of the city. 

Staff have suggested a portion of the ARPA funds could be put towards a county-wide program that would help cover the cost of minor home repairs for Shawnee residents 

City Manager Nolan Sunderman said the city is also considering options to put funding towards internet access for residents in need. 

No formal action was taken for allocating ARPA funds. City staff have been directed to compile all project options for city council members to rank and vote on at a later date. ARPA funds must be spent no later than December 31, 2024.

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