Pitkin County to receive millions more than expected in COVID-relief funding
CARES Act money for county, local municipalities checks in at $3.8 million
While Pitkin County was expecting to receive about $700,000 from the federal government in the latest round of reimbursements for COVID-19-related expenses, officials were recently notified they would get more than five times that amount.
“It was significantly more than we anticipated so that was a nice surprise,” Ann Driggers, the county’s finance director, said Tuesday. “I wasn’t going to complain.”
And while the nearly $3.9 million in CARES Act funding allocated to Pitkin County and local municipalities in the past few days by state public health officials must be spent by Dec. 30, Driggers didn’t think that would be a problem.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “we’ve already spent most of it.”
In addition, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock on Tuesday proposed another $1.3 million in additional COVID-related spending for winter 2021 that includes $500,000 for grants to small businesses and $400,000 for nonprofits to distribute to needy individuals and families. Some of those expenses likely will drop off as vaccination efforts, which are set to begin Thursday in Pitkin County, become more widespread, he said.
“It’s the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Peacock said.
Pitkin County has spent about $7 million on COVID-related expenses since the pandemic began in March, including around $2 million in direct economic assistance to residents, Driggers said. Much of the rest has been spent on vastly increasing the county’s Public Health Department.
The county received $1.55 million from the CARES Act in the first round of reimbursement payments, Driggers said.
The municipalities of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt, as well as the ambulance district, will receive a share of the coming $3.8 million, Peacock said Tuesday. Pitkin County is expecting to receive “north of $2 million,” he said.
The new proposed spending outlined Tuesday would include the $500,000 grant program in which local small businesses could receive as much as $1,500 in reimbursements for “protective measures” such as air filtration systems, Peacock said. Another $400,000 would be provided in a fund for local nonprofits — which have taken the lead in distributing funds to needy individuals and families in Pitkin County — to tap into to plug gaps in funding needs for that population, he said.
The county also wants to spend $100,000 to guide small businesses and individuals and help them tap into federal, state and local support programs.
Finally, the county plans to spend another $350,000 on hiring more help for COVID-related issues, like fielding questions about the traveler affidavit program, increasing contact tracing and disease investigation capabilities and further support for the consumer protection program, Peacock said.
Implementing the state’s so-called “Five-Star” program for businesses would take some of those funds because it will require inspections and on-going enforcement of businesses that apply to the program, he said. Further, the program will only apply in counties where all three metrics measured by the state are within the same level, Peacock said.
That means Pitkin County — with an incidence rate Thursday that was more than twice the maximum threshold for Orange level restrictions — would not currently qualify for the program, he said.
Commissioners were generally supportive of the proposed new spending for winter, though at least two wanted the county to concentrate on the fast-approaching Christmas holidays and the near future.
Commissioner Patti Clapper, who previously has spoken about her regular patronage of local eateries because she dislikes cooking, proposed allowing restaurants to have a 10 p.m. last-call for alcohol for two weeks around Christmas, which is permitted under Orange level restrictions. Pitkin County’s “Orange-plus” restrictions mean last call now occurs at 9:30 p.m. and restaurants usher patrons out the door and close at 10 p.m.
Clapper also called for robust disease investigation and contact tracing capability for the expected surge in holiday visitors.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury seconded that, saying that disease containment efforts are “my highest priority” during the Christmas season.
Commissioner George Newman, however, frowned on Clapper’s suggestion for a 10 p.m. last call.
“I understand wanting to help businesses over the holiday,” he said. “But lessening restrictions for a couple weeks could have disastrous consequences for the rest of the season. I think that is short-sighted.”
The Pitkin County Board of Health, which will meet Thursday, may discuss the temporary, later curfew, as well as the Five-Star program for businesses. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association is hosting a meeting for the business community about the 5 Star program at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.