City of Aspen recipient of $10M in COVID-19 relief funds
City Council will consider how to spend $1.8M in American Rescue Plan funding
The city of Aspen has received almost $10 million in COVID-19 relief funds, most of which has gone to paying for in-town bus service in the past year.
Just over $2.2 million came in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funding, which was coordinated through and managed by the Roaring Fork Transit Authority. Another $4.5 million came to the city through RFTA in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act dollars.
The city receives the credit against its expenses to operate the no-fare city routes when they are applied, according to City Finance Director Pete Strecker.
The city also received $1.2 million in CARES funding in 2020 to be applied toward the municipal government’s commercial rent assistance and arts grants programs.
Aspen City Council approved a $6 million relief and recovery package shortly after the pandemic began in March 2020.
Of that, $1 million was allocated for rent relief in which the city paid as much as $14,000 to Aspen retailers and restaurants April through July 2020.
The amount was equal to one-third of the monthly rent of a business for as many as three months.
•CARES Funding Received And Applied Towards Commercial Rent Assistance and Arts Grants Programs: $1,227,486.73 (received)
•CARES (Phase 1) Funding Received By RFTA (Applied to city of Aspen Transit): $1,230,648 (applied in full)
•CARES (Phase 2) Funding Received By RFTA (Applied to city of Aspen Transit): $794,130 (applied in full)
•CARES (Phase 3) Funding Received By RFTA (Applied to city of Aspen Transit): $200,000 (applied in full)
•CRRSAA Funding Received By RFTA (Applied to city of Aspen Transit): $4,525,129 (partially applied towards 2021 expenditures)
•American Rescue Plan funding: $930,119.77 (1st 50% received)
*Source: City of Aspen
Businesses that were eligible had to have a landlord who was willing to pay a third of the rent, with the tenant paying the remainder.
As part of the economic stimulus, the city borrowed millions of dollars from the Wheeler Opera House fund, which is fueled by real estate transfer taxes.
The CARES money provided reimbursement to a portion of that loan, which helps pay down the interest on it as well, said City Manager Sara Ott.
“We are trying to pay that back because it’s a general fund expense,” she said.
The city also has been awarded a total of nearly $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan funding, which is dispersed by the state.
The first half of money, roughly $930,000, was released in June and the second portion is coming in 2022.
The first 50% of the money is being held in the general fund until Aspen City Council decides how it would like to be spent under the allowable uses set forth by the governing legislation, according to Strecker.
Two capital projects are under consideration, which were floated by Ott during a July 30 work session with council.
The discussion was centered around asking Aspen voters this fall to repurpose future real estate transfer tax revenue toward another community need.
Providing more affordable child care options for local parents who are part of the workforce is one of them, as is replacing aging stormwater infrastructure.
Some capital projects are allowable uses under the American Rescue Plan funding, Ott said.
She recommended to focus on one-time grant dollars for new stormwater infrastructure needs and to consider utilizing American Rescue Plan dollars for repairs to existing infrastructure that’s near end of life.
The council will need to encumber the funds by 2024 for an authorized use.
There also is possible new state and federal infrastructure funding that may become available soon for competitive grant awards.
Regarding child care, Ott recommended to seek funding support through partnerships and grants, with a kickoff contribution for capital needs from the Kids First fund to construct a new facility.
City staff is anticipated to do a financial analysis of borrowing scenarios, however, the annual revenue of the fund is unlikely to fully finance the construction of new facilities without impacting current programs, including financial aid to families, Ott said.
But it’s likely possible to use American Rescue Act dollars for capital construction, she added.
Many communities that suffered losses in tax revenue used their American Rescue Act money to back fill their general funds used for basic services delivered to citizens.
But the local tourism economy fared well during COVID-19 as visitors and new home buyers flocked to Aspen in 2020 once lockdown restrictions were lifted, fueling sales, lodging and real estate transfer taxes.
So, capital projects are on council’s radar as an alternative for the American Rescue Act funding.
Council members will begin discussing its options during 2022 budget meetings this fall.
“My hope is to deliver something tangible to the community,” Ott said.
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