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SPARK funds help those hit by COVID-19
Cites, schools, Health Department, elections garner state money
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The Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas funding from the state was a big deal at the Barton County Commission meeting Monday morning. SPARK funds come from the state to assist with COVID-19-related costs.

First, commissioners approved distribution of SPARK funding to cities and school districts in the county.

“On June 16, the State Finance Council approved the SPARK Taskforce’s proposal to distribute $5,268,052 to the county to help address the health and economic challenges inflicted by COVID-19,” County Administrator Phil Hathcock said. “These funds were directed to us to be distributed to cities and school districts.”

He said the county has a plan for how to distribute money to county departments as well. But Monday’s action targeted only towns and schools since that is the portion already approved by the state SPARK committee.  

Hathcock said he didn’t have the amounts to be awarded to each entity. But, for the schools, the total was based on student counts and for the cities, it was based on population.

“I do just want to say on behalf of the school district and the county, we were very fortunate,” said USD 428 Superintendent Khris Thexton. “I’ve talked to other superintendents from around the state, and we were treated very well, compared to some of the other counties.”

He said the money was well used, especially with the extra costs associated with running the school district the pandemic. “We greatly appreciate the county and the commissioners for allowing us to be a part of that. So thank you very much.”

Second, commissioners heard about SPARK funding received by the Health Department. Funds must be expended by Dec. 30, said Health Director Karen Winkelman.

“This specific opportunity is for Kansas local health departments,” she said. “Out of 75 applicants, 26 were awarded funding, and we were one of those 26.”

It’s very specific what those funds can be used for, she said. They are for necessary expenditures incurred during the public health emergency which started March 1.

“Some of the items that we are able to purchase with this money is capital equipment, like medical station equipment, expanded refrigeration, supplies, coolers, thermometers, new packaging units to take our vaccines and things out,” Winkelman said. Also travel and our shipping costs for specimens can be submitted, and the department’s mobile unit can be readied for use.

Lastly, it approved the purchase of voting equipment to improve social distancing at voting locations.

County Clerk Donna Zimmerman and Grant Coordinator Sue Cooper included the purchase of certain election equipment in the Reimbursement and Direct Aid plans for SPARK funding. So, the two asked the commission to approve the purchase of six ExpressVote Ballot Marking Devices and two Poll Pads, all with appropriate software, licensing and support.  

With the addition of equipment, voting locations will be able to increase social distancing measures, thus protecting both the public and election workers against the spread of COVID, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.

The marking devices will come from Election Systems and Software at cost of $$27,995, and the Poll Pads will come from KnowInk at a cost of $4,200.

These will be in use for the Nov. 3 general election, he said. They will be distributed among the various polling stations, with priority given to those that typically see more activity.

The SPARKS program is a component of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The funding is based on Barton County’s population and impact from COVID-19, with funds provided for reimbursement of COVID-19 related costs.