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Clay County Commission Threatens To Take Back Coronavirus Funding From Kansas City

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Aviva Okeson-Haberman
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KCUR 89.3 file photo
The Clay County Commission signed off on a letter to Kansas City's mayor Monday saying funding for coronavirus relief expenses should be spent within Clay County.

The Clay County Commission says it won't be an "ATM machine" for Kansas City's bureaucracy. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says that shouldn’t be an issue.

The Clay County Commission is demanding that the roughly $11.7 million in funding for coronavirus expenses it gave to Kansas City be spent within Clay County borders.

The Kansas City Council voted in late May to have the funds go toward projects within the county with the exception of administrative costs or spending “not otherwise readily divisible based on geographic boundaries.”

The Clay County Commission signed off on a letter to the city Monday saying the exceptions are in “direct conflict” with the county’s wishes, and it will claw back money spent outside Clay County.

“The Northland is once again an ATM machine for the bureaucracy in downtown Kansas City,” Commissioner Luann Ridgeway said during Monday’s commission meeting. “I think that’s messed up, and we need to send a clear statement that we expect Clay County funds to be spent in Clay County,”

Lucas told KCUR the money will be spent in Clay County.

“Somebody who is in Clay County can rest assured that all that is supposed to be spent in Clay County will be spent in Clay County and it won’t be utilized elsewhere,” Lucas said.

The CARES Act funding can help pay for expenses like coronavirus testing and contact tracing. Kansas City relies on the four counties its in to receive the money.

Clay County’s distribution of funds to the city was contentious. Lucas argued in May that the city should have received an additional $4 million based on the city’s population, and Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte took issue with how quickly the county distributed funds.

Nolte said Monday the overall process of distributing money was “rushed through” and the commission should have originally made spending money within the county a condition for receiving aid.

“Basically Clay County blew it,” Nolte said. “We could have, at some point, put a requirement in there that money be spent in Clay County.”

Nolte is typically outvoted by his fellow commissioners. His proposal last month to have a committee review CARES funding requests was dismissed in favor of giving funds directly to the cities.

“You didn’t get your way, so get with it,” Ridgeway told Nolte.

It’s unclear what action the county will take if Kansas City spends money outside Clay County. Assistant County Administrator Laurie Portwood told the commissioners it's up for discussion.

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