SPARK funds distribution shows inequity between city and county requests

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
With funding deadlines looming city officials work to correct  county-dictated funding relief inequity.

Determining how $1.8 million in Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas funds will be spent in Pratt County is a complicated challenge, especially time wise. 

All SPARK money requests have to be directly tied to the COVID-19 virus to qualify for funding, said Heather Morgan, county Economic Development Director.

A County SPARK committee has to determine which taxing entities, agriculture businesses and other businesses requests for funds met the qualifications, a sub committee has to determine the perimeters for business requests, then the full committee has to reevaluate the requests and come up with a final list of recommendations that does not exceed the $1.8 million in SPARK funds. The initial request for funds totaled $2.8 million. 

The final committee recommendation to the County Commissioners, who have final approval, is due Monday, July 28. It is then sent to Morgan who will write the plan and send it to the newly formed Office of Revenue for fund dispersal by no later than Saturday, Aug. 15. 

Morgan said the plan needs to be completed as soon as possible so the Pratt County request is as close to the top of the pile as it can get. 

The Plan Morgan has to submit is very complicated. She has to enter every item from every request on a long spread sheet and that takes a lot of time, Morgan said. 

"The forms are incredibly complicated. We have to put very detailed information for every expenditure," said Morgan who also said the drop down tabs on the provided spread sheet don't work. "This is a very messy process." 

The County SPARK Committee received the initial requests on July 9. With $1.8 million to work with and $2.8 in requests, the committee had to determine what items were and weren't directly related to COVID-19.

Their initial funding recommendations were: Pratt County $598,000; City of Pratt $30,000 (total request $500,000); Pratt Regional Medical Center $475,000; Pratt Community College $211,000; USD 382 $139,000; USD 438 $70,000; $150,000 agriculture businesses; $150,000 other businesses. 

The County amount includes EMS, Fire and Rescue, Emergency Management and Health Department requests. 

Pratt City Manager Bruce Pinkall and Pratt City Attorney Regina Probst both expressed concerns that the city had been treated unfairly in the recommendation process. Probst said the City had $500,000 in requests and the committee had only recommended $30,000. 

"For the entirety of Pratt to get two percent of funding is not OK. I just don't know how this was justified," said Probst who stated examples of items she believed were directly related to COVID-19 that were not recommended. 

County Commissioner Tom Jones said he thought the number for Pratt was too low. 

Pratt County has retained the services of an accountant from Swindoll Janzen Hawk Lloyd in McPherson for $35,000 who will help determine which funds are directly related to COVID-19, said Tyson Eisenhauer, county counselor. 

This is crucial because if items in the Plan don't meet the approval of the Office of Revenue, the county will be responsible for reimbursing those funds. 

Once the Office of Revenue approves the funds, they have to be spent as soon as possible. The Office of Revenue will check on Sept. 10 to determine if the funds have been or are being spent. 

"That is a hard rule. The money has to be out the door by Sept. 10," Eisenhauer said.

The drop dead day for spending funds is Dec. 30. 

If the funds have not been spent by that time, any unspent funds will revert to the state, Morgan said. 

The Pratt SPARK Committee members are: Pratt Community College President Michael Calvert, USD 438 Superintendent Becca Flowers, USD 382 Superintendent Tony Helfrich, Pratt Regional Medical Center President and CEO Susan Page, Pratt City representative and City Manager Bruce Pinkall and County representative Commissioner Glenna Borho. Additional committee representatives are Mark Fincham for agriculture, Weston Goyen for financial, John Keller for business and Jackie Mundt at-large. 

The subcommittee members are Fincham, Goyen, Keller and Mundt.