Geary County agencies have had no trouble spending the $6.3 million it received from the state for COVID-19 expenditure relief. From a $2.6 million radio upgrade for first responders to $3.98 to help protect an employee from the virus the dollars have helped numerous agencies stay on top of the pandemic.

SPARK is monies from Governor Laura Kelly’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas Taskforce Executive Committee. The governor created the SPARK taskforce to oversee the distribution of more than $1 billion in federal funds Kansas received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Residents can keep track of the expenditures on the county website. County Commissioner Brad Scholtz, who has been overseeing the use of the SPARK funds, said the online page only reflects the vouchers paid out.

Each of the departments and organizations had previously submitted spending plans, but those plans are in a constant state of change, he said.

“The only time you have a definitive amount for a definitive type of purchase, is once the voucher is sent to the clerk’s office and they cut that check,” he said.

The Office of Inspector General put the stipulation that all the work related to the COVID-19 purchases was to be completed by the end of the year.

“Everybody is scrambling,” Scholtz said.

Some of the projects were simple. Jonathan Thummel, human resources director, submitted a $3.98 voucher to cover the expenses related to building a shield to protect one of his employees.

“I had to buy a 1 by 4 at the hardware store and I had a piece of plexiglass given to me by the county treasurer and then I built it at home,” he said.

Not every project is that easy or inexpensive.

Geary County Hospital has turned in several vouchers to cover an increase in the purchase of personal protective equipment and other expenses.

"We have been very methodical in preparing and researching what our hospital has needed for the influx of patients,” said Richard Lewis, interim chief financial officer. “The SPARK funding has been instrumental in making sure quality care is continued for all of our patients that we serve."

The funding has allowed them to replace all patient monitors, cardiac monitors, vital signs and telemetry for the entire hospital.

Ashley King, director of communication, said the current system is dated and many replacement parts are not available.

“We are in the process of getting all of it installed now. We hope to be up and running with the new system by Dec. 30,” she said.

Likewise, the process of converting all first responders to an 800-megahertz radio system has started.

Fire Chief Terry Johnson said the equipment has started arriving and the majority of it should come in over the next week or two. He projects Dec. 31 as the date for the official switch.

“We’ve scheduled this down to the last day just for the simple fact that it is a whole lot (of work),” he said. “This isn’t just ‘plug a radio in and voila, it works.’ There’s a whole lot of background or infrastructure work that needs to be installed, repaired, replaced, those type of things.”

Also, with a second wave of COVID-19 sweeping the country he has to anticipate potential shutdowns that can slow the process.

“If something happens at the manufacturer and they get hit with a COVID (outbreak) or the transportation company can’t get through because of something — we have to look at all those things while we’re doing this.”

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