In the aftermath of a mass shooting that took place in Newton and Hesston on Feb. 25, 2016, personnel from across Harvey County came together in response to that incident.
Similarly, the community partners came together to help in the recovery process — with Safehope Executive Director Jan Jones taking the lead in a resiliency project tied to that.
"We took this responsibility on and accepted the responsibility in providing services, knowing that the delay has not been something that's been comfortable or an easy task to overcome," Jones said. "I cannot explain, and I would not be able to completely understand, what the impact has been for the survivors, victims, their families, the first responders, the community and what they have had to experience this last two years due to that day on Feb. 25."
Delayed as they may be, Jones and the community partners she works with are starting to see the fruits of their labor, as grant requests have been answered in the form of funding through the Victims of Crime Act and the Anti-terrorism Emergency Assistance Program — which she informed the Harvey County Commission of at its meeting this week.
As of the start of this year, the county has begun to see what Jones said will be upwards of $700,000 in funding coming in for the resiliency project.
Funds through both programs will go towards counseling and support services to be offered in the county and beyond — as Jones noted employees at Excel (the terminus of the shooting) represented 65 different zip codes across the region — and the monetary support will also allow for the hiring of five additional staff members to help in those efforts.
"The immediate need is for the response and for the intervention and the support we are needing right now," Jones said. "I see this as what could be, for me, identified as a turning point."
On top of that, Jones said the funds from the AEAP can help meet the tangible needs of the victims in providing beds, blankets, clothing, food, etc. for those still recovering from the incident. She is also looking forward to continuing to collaborate with community partners in utilizing some of those resources to address the prevention aspect.
Collaboration is also something Jones noted has been key in securing these funds, as she has been working closely with Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder, Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny and County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber, who will continue seeking out ways to put the financial aid to good use.
Questions from the commission centered on what took so long to secure the funds, and Jones noted because they are funneled through the Governor's office — and given the numerous other requests that are received — it can take some time for them to be doled out. Having secured them, the commission was all for staying on top of it to keep that support coming.
"Whatever we gotta do to put pressure on the Governor's office and the feds, we need to do it and take care of our community," said commissioner Chip Westfall.
For commission chair Randy Hague, one of the main concerns was what happens with the additional staff if the funding is not continued. Would those positions then be cut, or the onus of funding then be passed on to the taxpayers?
Jones admitted it is possible the funding would not continue, but even so both she and Swartzendruber were quick to point out the additional staffing could make a major impact even if just in the span of a year. Additionally, while she notes that could be a hurdle, she is hopeful the funds being awarded is a positive sign moving forward.
"I still hope that this is not a road block, that it's a turning point, and I'm excited that finally we have the funds and we can start the project and respond to the needs that we have out in Harvey County and beyond," Jones said.
Still working on the specific details regarding how the funding will be utilized, Jones said she will be back to present another update to the commission in March.
In other business, the county commission:
Congratulated Jones on her recent honor of being named Juliene Maska Advocate of the Year by the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
Noted the cancellation of a REAP meeting on Thursday, which will take place via phone on Friday instead.
Received information on Naloxone (or Narcan), a new drug that is being circulated within some law enforcement agencies around the county to help treat victims of overdosing. While the benefits were highlighted in an article presented the commissioners, it also discussed some concerns (i.e. risks to officers applying it).
Heard an update on some bills of note circulating in the State Legislature, regarding police forfeitures, property taxes and more, while Swartzendruber also outlined the county's collective legislative priorities (including home rule, the budget, medicaid expansion, etc.) as outlined at the most recent Council of Governments meeting.
Learned of the continued restoration work on the county's computer system following a cyberattack two weeks ago, with full departmental services restored to normal as of Monday.
Received a report from Sheriff Chad Gay on statistics for the department from January, with 93 cases pulled, 456 traffic stops, 35 tickets issued and 40 arrests made.
Approved Road and Bridge Superintendent Jim Meier to proceed in seeking permits for a project to reinforce the bank of the Little Arkansas River (to repair erosion damage) at a stretch through West Park.
Accepted three bids (from two dealerships) for a pickup for the Solid Waste Department, with staff to review and report back with a final purchasing recommendation.