City of Aspen building $5M coronavirus economic relief and stimulus package
Aspen City Council on Monday agreed to a multimillion dollar economic relief and stimulus package for individuals and businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The money — initially up to $5 million — would cover everything from rent relief for local workers to child care subsidies for working families to possible bridge loans or grants to Aspen businesses, along with costs associated with disease testing and personal protective equipment for health care workers.
The financial resources would come from borrowing against the Wheeler Opera House fund, along with dipping into the city’s general fund, as well as the Kids First fund and the housing development fund.
All of those funds have reserves, according to city officials.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein, along with his colleagues, said it’s important to let the community know the city is working toward helping its residents, workforce and businesses.
“We don’t know what the total impact is going to be, we don’t know what the cost is going to be,” he said. “We’re fully committed to supporting our community in the short-term relief and long-term recovery.”
The city is embarking on the economic relief package as the municipal government braces for an estimated revenue shortfall of nearly $13 million in lodging and sales tax revenues this year.
That’s based off a projected reduction of $277 million in the sales and lodging tax base.
“The COVID-19 crisis is not only of a magnitude never before faced by cities, states and the federal government, but the speed at which it is manifesting is unprecedented,” City Manager Sara Ott said.
Details around how to administer the relief and make it equitable with sound criteria will be sorted out by city staff before it is rolled out.
The council spent over five hours in a work session Monday night hashing out multi-pronged outcomes that center around increasing the economic security for vulnerable people by securing shelter, food, utilities, health care, child care and transportation, as well as work proactively to minimize further economic disruption and actively encourage its recovery.
Mayor Torre said the city’s relief package is about “response, relief and recovery.”
The council did not formally adopt a resolution Monday but plans are being made for a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m. to officially appropriate the money and make the funding sources clear.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, City Finance Director Pete Strecker explained to The Aspen Times that the municipal government’s general fund has $15 million in reserves, which is $5.7 million over the city’s target, per its financial policies.
“This is before a $3 million projected decline in tax revenue this year, plus declines in recreation or other department fees,” he wrote in an email.
The Housing Development Fund has $33 million in it and is dedicated solely to affordable housing efforts.
The Kids First Fund has $5.5 million in reserves, which is $5.3 million over the city’s reserve target.
Council last month appropriated $200,000 from the general fund that went into Pitkin County’s COVID-19 relief fund, which totals $1.3 million so far, with the bulk coming from the county and a $100,000 contribution from the town of Snowmass Village.
If you feel COVID-19 symptoms or need to be referred for other services, call:
Aspen to Parachute COVID-19 hotline (970) 429-6186) 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week.
Mind Springs Health mental health support line:
1-877-519-7505 (Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Roughly 1,000 people have filed an application looking for economic relief, but processing the requests has bogged down response time, according to officials.
City staff could be moved to the county to help assist in processing those applications, along with more municipal dollars being funneled into the fund.
After five-and-a half-hours of conversation Monday night, council members expressed frustration that the city isn’t moving fast enough in getting economic relief to their constituents, or agreeing how much money to put toward the constantly evolving crisis.
“It’s April 6 and we have got to be pulling the trigger for people or we are losing so much ground,” Torre said. “We need to get some dollars rolling.”
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