Pressure to lift mask mandate resisted
The city council refused to set an end date for the city’s mask mandate despite a possible pressure from a bill now in the state Legislature.
“Face masks have become a huge political dynamic,” city administrator Roger Holter told the council during its Monday meeting.
Kansas governor Laura Kelly reissued a state mask mandate Thursday only to have a Republican-controlled group of legislators overturn it.
Meanwhile, federal money to offset financial hardship caused by COVID-19 has become available to cities under 50,000 under the federal American Rescue Plan.
Holter estimated Marion could come into $240,000 to $320,000 it could use for the city’s water towers and other maintenance projects including a new sewer line.
The city will have until 2024 to spend the funds, which can earn interest until they are used.
The catch: A bill in the Kansas state legislature has been introduced to set aside $100 million to compensate businesses for shutdowns and other ordinances to fight the pandemic.
The city of Marion’s mask mandate ends at the end of June.
“However, if we have a mask mandate beyond May 1, we could possibly be liable and businesses may have the right to seek compensation,” Holter said.
“They way it is set up,” he said. “Possibly, if we are going to have a face mask ordinance in effect 25% of that money could be taken by the attorney general’s office into the fund to pay out future claims any business owners filed.”
The legislation being discussed in the judicial committee at press time.
Any money set aside for the compensation fund will not be returned to the cities, it will be turned over to the state’s general fund, Holter said.
“So then it’s gone forever,” councilman Chris Costillo said.
“Yes, disappeared forever,” city attorney Sue Robson said.
Holter said the legislature plans to take action on the bill this session, but he has no idea what the final version will look like.
Ruth Herbel told the council a mask mandate will trigger the new law only if the city requires businesses to enforce it.
That is the opinion of Trey Cocking, deputy director of the League of Kansas municipalities.
“That’s what he knows right now,” she said.
Herbel reminded the council that variants of COVID-19 have been found in Finney and Lyons counties and many in Marion County still are not vaccinated.
“That makes me think we still need to keep the mask mandate,” she said.
Councilmember Susan Gray asked the council to wait a few weeks and see if anything happens in the Legislature. The city meets again on May 3.
Roger Holter agreed with Herbel’s assertion that the city had not mandated business enforce face masks.
“We could fight a claim from a business, I believe, just going with what we’ve got,” he said.
Robson said amending the mask order to recommend wearing of face masks may be an option.
“I think we could pass something that says, ‘We are going to recommend you wear face masks, but we are going to leave it to the individual or business to enforce it,’” she said. “Let them do what they want.”
“Which is what they are doing anyway,” Gray said, as other council members nodded their agreement.
City mayor David Mayfield proposed tabling the discussion until the city’s next meeting.
“That way we can look at all of our options,” he said.