Novel coronavirus Q&A with Aspen City Manager Sara Ott
The Aspen Times posed the following questions to Aspen City Manager Sara Ott on Tuesday. As of 6:30 p.m. Thursday, this is what Ott had to give for an update:
Aspen Times: What is the city of Aspen’s role in the COVID-19 response?
Sara Ott: The city of Aspen has two key roles: response and recovery. The response role includes supporting Pitkin County Public Health and Pitkin County Incident Management Team in staffing emergency efforts, aiding in amplifying messages to the community, and providing resources for immediate needs in the community. The city is also modeling key changes, including social distancing, to encourage others to take this public health emergency seriously. The city relies on Pitkin County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the community experts for how to aggressively reduce the risks of COVID in the community.
Recovery is another essential role for the city. Staff is already in contact regularly with state representatives on possible economic relief for individuals and businesses. This work is critical during and after the immediate threat has subsided. The work will continue for several months.
Community members have an important role in recovery planning. Please share with your Aspen City Council representatives your concerns, needs and hopes for when the community comes out of this situation.
City staff is developing strategies to support our economic sectors and residents. These strategies are best when they are informed by struggles and realities. Soon, City Council will be launching specific outreach efforts. Admittedly, there won’t be easy answers. However, City Council and city staff is committed to collaborating with the community and capitalizing on our shared resiliency.
AT: What questions are you fielding/hearing from the public the most?
Ott: There are uncertainties about when businesses can open back up. This is important — jobs are key to residents achieving economic stability. There are questions about the summer tourist season and questions about the lack of COVID testing in Colorado.
AT: Does the city of Aspen plan to set aside emergency funds for local residents similar to what Pitkin County did on Tuesday? If so, how much and how will it be spent?
Ott: The city is a willing partner for response efforts. City Council will consider a recommendation to provide $200,000 of initial economic relief assistance for individuals and families in the city of Aspen on March 24 at its regular meeting. Pitkin County Human Services would administer the funding with its expertise and leverage additional county, state and federal dollars to help our friends and neighbors who are economically vulnerable right now.
Also, this won’t be the only time these funding issues come up. This initial recommendation is to help bridge the gap between immediate needs and possible future reimbursements to the city from state and federal relief packages.
AT: How is the city maintaining essential services to the public during this crisis?
Ott: The city is maintaining essential services through technology. Residents and businesses are welcome to call and email staff. The city’s website is also full of information that is updated regularly. Staff is available virtually to assist folks.
For non-virtual services, staff members are practicing social distancing. The water and electric utilities are up and running smoothly, police officers are responding to calls, roads are being plowed and permit applications are being accepted and reviewed.
AT: When will City Council resume their meetings? How will they will be conducted?
Ott: An important clarification here — City Council meetings have not been canceled and have maintained the current schedule. The next meeting is March 24 at 5 p.m. A few work sessions were postponed out of the interest of focusing on response efforts.
All public meetings will comply with public health orders. The 10-person limit in the public health orders means that citizen participation will only occur through call-in opportunities.
Callers must arrange participation ahead of time through the City Clerk’s Office. There will be information posted online and with meeting agendas to help the public understand how to notify the City Clerk’s Office in order to participate and what to expect during the meeting. Folks can also call 970-920-5001. Another change is that councilmembers and staff may participate remotely in the meetings.
The public can anticipate meetings to continue to be broadcast through Channel 11 CGTV, on the city’s website and Facebook.
AT: Is the city responding to declining tax revenues and making budget projections/adjustments?
Ott: City staff is in the preliminary stages of revising the city’s sales tax projections. There is uncertainty surrounding the duration of this emergency that will need to be taken into consideration. Historically, March is a high sales month for the community. Clearly the initial projections will need to be adjusted.
More immediately, conversations have started with staff to identify non-essential capital expenses and job vacancies that are funded by sales tax. These expenses are being closely reviewed and many are likely to be postponed. City Council will be presented with recommendations for adjustments later this spring.
AT: Is there anything else you want to say to the public?
Ott: Your City Council is committed to keeping our community safe and healthy and maintaining our essential services. There will be many policy conversations in the future that will need community vetting and participation. Right now, everyone should do their part to practice social distancing and comply with public health orders.
Finally, I am proud and appreciative of the staff and volunteers on the front lines in health care, local government, essential community businesses and community support services. They have risen time and again over the last few weeks with professionalism and grace. They have continued to provide excellent services to the public through this fast-evolving situation.
I am confident that we will come out stronger, together, as a community.