Here’s how Shawnee is considering spending $7.5M in latest round of federal COVID-19 relief

Shawnee city leaders are discussing how to spend $7.5 million the city was allocated as part of the American Rescue Plan. Police Chief Sam Larson (above) said adding two mental health co-responders will be a benefit for public safety.

Shawnee is exploring a variety of ways to spend $7.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief.

This round of federal funding comes from the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package authorized in March by the American Rescue Plan, according to city documents.

The city’s total allocation of American Rescue Plan dollars is $7,564,030.

In general, the emergency funding for the city is designed to “remedy this mismatch between rising costs and falling revenues,” according to a city memo. But the funds can also be used for the ongoing public health emergency, grant opportunities, small business and nonprofit assistance and household assistance, among other uses.

City leaders on Monday discussed their options, such as creating a “land banking” fund for the city to buy up private property for future development, adding two mental health co-responders to work alongside the Shawnee Police Department and a handful of infrastructure and connectivity improvements.

Stormwater improvements near the proposed site of a residential project at 5700 King St., formerly the home of Wonderscope Children’s Museum, are also up for consideration. File photo.

Here’s a list of items up for consideration, as well as their estimated allotment:

  • Hiring two additional mental health co-responders for a total of four on staff — $750,000
  • Relocate and upsize the stormwater pipe near Splash Cove, 5700 King (old Wonderscope museum) and First Baptist Church of Shawnee — $1.5 million
  • Complete fiber buildout, adding full connectivity to all city facilities, parks and identified traffic signals — $750,000
  • Adding sidewalk to connect the so-called “valley of champions” area around Mid-America Sports Complex to Lackman Road to help pedestrians get to and from the Shawnee Justice Center and Municipal Court — $1 million
  • Hotel grants for capital improvements — $500,000 total, up to $100,000 per hotel
  • One-time non-profit grants — amount to be determined
  • Additional funding to support marketing for tourism, sports tournaments, social media, etc., for Visit Shawnee and Shawnee Chamber of Commerce — $75,000
  • Land bank/development or redevelopment fund for the city to purpose land for resale in targeted areas, particularly downtown or in the “valley of champions” — amount to be determined
  • Sewer improvements at Shawnee Town 1929 — $250,000
  • County partnerships for any countywide initiatives, such as providing additional funding to the county’s Minor Home Repair Program — amount to be determined
Shawnee may develop a land bank fund that would allow the city to buy up property downtown to resell for future development.

Councilmember Kurt Knappen also asked the city staff about adding video livestream capabilities for city meetings and possibly dedicating some of the federal funds toward that project.

City staff have slated that discussion for Oct. 25.

No decisions made

Nothing official was decided during the committee meeting.

City staff will present options to the mayor and councilmembers in a spreadsheet for each elected official to rank their preferences. Afterward, city leaders will have a public discussion about the funds in an upcoming meeting.

The funding must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.

In general, the majority of the council showed support for most of the projects, particularly in adding mental health co-responders, creating the land bank for development and building citywide connectivity.

“It’ll absolutely benefit us,” said Chief Sam Larson of the Shawnee Police Department. “Mental health is actually one of the very large pieces of the ARPA funding, and this fits in a hundred percent with the purpose of ARPA funding.

“We can absolutely do this and we will be a leader in mental health response, in my opinion, in the county and the state, probably in the country, for a city of our size to have four co-responders. Mostly, it’s going to help us be a safe community and have safe members of our community.”

Councilmember Eric Jenkins proposed the land bank concept.

While some of his fellow councilmembers said they’d like to see the land bank funds cover the entire city, Jenkins said he believes that concentrating any land bank funds to a certain area, particularly downtown, will be more beneficial for the community.

“Grants and things like that, they’re neat, they sound good and all this stuff, but that money, once you spend it, it’s just gone. There’s no return on that investment,” Jenkins said. “We’re doing a lot downtown. We’re making some good headway. It’s important that we follow up on those expenditures we’ve already made to guarantee some sort of success for the downtown revitalization.”

Dedicating $3 million of the federal dollars to the Monticello Road and 75th Street improvement projects was part of discussions, but city leaders opted to remove those projects for consideration.

The projects will instead be funded through a bond issuance the Shawnee City Council approved earlier in the evening at its regular meeting.

A recording of the meeting is available on the city website and below. Discussion begins at 3:36.