Shawnee lays out how it will spend $2 million in coronavirus relief funds

The Shawnee City Council Oct. 12 unanimously agreed to receive and spend about $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. Shawnee has already been reimbursed for some projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including installation of plexiglass barriers in city facilities and purchases of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks. Above, city staff prepare mitigation measures for residents to make public comments in order to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Shawnee City Council has unanimously agreed to receive and spend about $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

The funds come from the CARES Act and will be allocated through Johnson County’s relief grant program, which has received $124 million in coronavirus relief funds overall. The city can use the funds as reimbursement for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shawnee’s allocation — like all cities in the county — is based on population.

Stephen Powell, deputy city manager, said some projects for which the city has already been reimbursed include installation of plexiglass barriers in city facilities and purchases of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks.

As of Oct. 12, Shawnee has been reimbursed for $166,355 in actual expenses. Cities receive periodic reimbursement for some recurring expenses, such as sanitization of public facilities and resupplies for PPE.

Other pandemic-related expenses

Additionally, Johnson County approved multiple projects in Shawnee costing more than $50,000 each, with a combined total of roughly $893,000. These include:

  • Council chamber audio upgrade — about $124,000
  • Touchless multi-function printers for city facilities and centralized print management — about $105,000
  • Microsoft Surface tablet purchases — $100,000
  • Installation of Microsoft TEAMs in city conference rooms — about $88,000
  • Automated heart/respiratory monitors-defibrillators — about $235,000
  • Electronic records management system and scanning of paper documents — about $241,000

Councilmembers Jill Chalfie and Kurt Knappen showed interest in using a portion of the funding to support video upgrades for livestreaming city meetings. The audio livestream of public meetings is available online, and the city can also stream presentations and video from city leaders’ computers if they turn on their webcams.

“I think that’s something that ultimately would be a good thing for us to move toward,” Knappen said. “A lot of other governing bodies locally already stream, and we don’t on a regular basis.”

Councilmembers Kurt Knappen (above) and Jill Chalfie said they support efforts to fund video livestreaming of city council meetings.

Powell said video streaming upgrades were not included in the proposal, but the new audio upgrades will be able to accommodate video streaming in the future. The city council may have those discussions during the next city budget process if councilmembers are interested, he added.

Dec. 30 deadline

All of Shawnee’s $2 million in coronavirus relief funds must be spent or earmarked by Dec. 30. Because of this, Powell said, staff may be unable to consider all options for video livestreaming council meetings before the deadline.

“Obviously these numbers don’t all add up to $2 million, so if there are projects that we can implement before Dec. 30, we will continue submitting them because we don’t want to leave any of that money on the table, so to speak,” Powell said. “We are extremely rushed to get the money spent, and I hate doing that because it’s just not typical for government to be under that tight of a deadline with this type of money.”

City Manager Nolan Sunderman noted that the city will have to consider “substantial, ongoing costs” for video livestreaming, as well as approaches for operations through either internal management or contract work.

Staff said that if funding is available, they hope to resubmit requests for reimbursement on some items the county initially declined, including:

  • Public electronic message boards at the public works shop and Fire Station 71 — $115,000
  • Water truck — $110,000
  • Police officer virtual reality training simulator — about $63,000

Noting his perception that the city struggles with communications, Councilmember Matt Zimmerman showed interest in expanding the city’s messaging capabilities citywide.

“I know that the city tries every single method of touching base with our residents, from emails to Twitter to printed material on specific items,” Zimmerman said. “If we can get some of these message boards funded, I think we ought to go for more than just the one at the public workshop and the one at Fire Station 71. Boy, that would be a great way to kill several birds with one stone.”

Caitlin Gard, assistant city manager, said staff is looking for ways to communicate more with the public.