ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners divided $92,000 among nine county businesses in microloans to relieve hardships brought by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The funds come from a Community Development Block Grant revolving loan program established several years ago that has been essentially dormant until the pandemic. The county received notice in late April that the state planned to use the money for economic assistance during a statewide stay-at-home order if the county didn’t utilize the money.
The commission approved funding 80 percent of the amounts applicants requested. Applicants could request up to $15,000, but the county only had $92,000 available.
“Everybody would like to spread the money around as much as possible,” County Counselor Seth Jones said.
Yard Sail of Chanute and T & T Property Preservation each received $4,000, while the other seven businesses received $12,000 each.
The commission received seven applications before its April 27 meeting which were approved 2-1 contingent on meeting qualifications. At that time, Commission Chair Gail Klaassen voted against approval and said she was concerned the public had not received sufficient notice of the application process. County Clerk Heather Elsworth and Commissioner David Orr contacted several possible applicants who were among the first seven, and were subsequently turned over to Jones for review. Additional applications were accepted until midnight before the May 1 meeting.
Two of the applicants from the first round, Elsworth Cattle and Stubbs Market in Erie, were left after the rest either did not meet qualifications or withdrew. Klaassen abstained from votes that set the amounts of funding, but the rest of the applicants were approved unanimously.
Businesses from the second round that received $12,000 funding were Screenworks, Dalton’s Back Nine, Ms. B’s Laundrymat, All Concrete, and Countryside ATV repair.
All of the loans are for three years at 2 percent interest with payments of interest only the first year and monthly payments afterwards.
The microloan program was streamlined from the original CDBG program and also opened to non-profit organizations, provided they had paid employees. After commissioners awarded the loans, they voted to make a $15,000 gift to the Neosho County Fair Board, one of the original seven applicants, but which did not meet requirements.
Klaassen said she did not mind giving money to the fair board, but suggested it be a matching grant.
“We don’t know if there’s going to be a fair,” she said.
Orr said fundraising efforts normally start now for the fair held the third week of July, and usually seek $23,000 to $27,000. He said the fair could be held if events follow the guidelines in Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to reopen businesses.
The funding was approved contingent on the 2020 fair being held, and will come from the commission’s fund of payment in lieu of taxes from the Neosho Ridge Wind project.
Chanute Regional Development Authority Director Matt Godinez said that now that the county’s CDBG fund has been depleted, officials will be able to access additional funds. A new program for pandemic assistance will be grant-oriented, instead of a revolving loan program.
The county’s microloan program was a counterpart to one operated by the City of Chanute, which was discontinued, although CRDA still receives funding to administer it. Those revolving loan funds have been returned to the state, although the city is still responsible for collecting the loan payments.
The commission received a release from County Treasurer Sydney Ball which reiterated that the county does not have authority to delay Monday’s deadline for property tax payments.
Taxpayers who did not pay full amounts of 2019 real estate and property taxes in December are required by statute to make the second installment by Monday, but still have the option to make a partial payment. Any unpaid balance will accrue interest daily starting Tuesday.
“The property tax collection deadlines and the collection of interest and fees associated with delinquency are set by Kansas Statute,” Ball said in the release. “The county does not have the authority to delay or extend the due date, nor does it have the authority to waive interest and fees.”
The courthouse reopened to the public this week, but the county is encouraging taxpayers to pay by mail if possible and avoid going to the treasurer’s office.
Commissioners also received maps Thursday evening of the routes windmill components will take to get to the Neosho Ridge Wind project construction.
Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown said the loads will try to avoid going north from US-400 on US-59 because of a railroad overpass. The components will be moved from the Great Plains Industrial Park east of Parsons, and will take US-400 west to US-169, north to K-47, east to US-59, and then south to some 20 construction sites. Some loads will also go south on Harper and Irving roads.
Klaassen said people may see some movement going north on US-59, but those are going to other projects including those in Missouri, and are not connected with the Neosho Ridge project.
She also said some wide loads may go through the four-way stop at US-169 and K-47.
“I’m just telling the public there just needs to be some patience,” she said.
The county has received a $50,000 payment for the use of additional roads on the haul route.
Commissioners also discussed the 911 system and Klaassen said there has been a lack of communication with Chanute officials over plans to start the city’s own dispatching system.
County 911 Director Lori Nally said she has 16 questions for the city. She said her two main concerns are with the fire department and Emergency Medical Services, which the county and city share. She said she wants to know which department will handle calls outside of Chanute and whether they will use the same frequency.
“This is a huge thing to split,” Nally said.
Nally also said she would like to meet with new Chanute 911 Director Monica Mason. Klaassen said Chanute has been the backup for county dispatching, but it’s not clear if the county be Chanute’s backup or if the county would need to get another backup.
Nally noted that the change comes during the issues with COVID-19 and the windmill delivery.
“Let’s not forget severe weather,” she said.
Commissioners also opened four bids for chip-and-seal materials. The winning bid will be awarded at the next meeting May 21.