Pitkin County’s COVID funding plan relies on fed money
Pitkin County could receive more than $2.3 million in reimbursement costs from the federal government for expenses related to the COVID-19 response, an official said Tuesday.
Pitkin County commissioners are trying to figure out how to pay for an additional 12 full-time staff members to respond to outbreaks in Aspen and Pitkin County, as well as assist businesses and the public in dealing with the onslaught of regulations that have and will continue to go along with efforts to balance daily life and the virus.
“We want things really dialed-in going in to this winter,” County Manager Jon Peacock said. “What we’re doing now is not sustainable for the Public Health staff. It’s not sustainable not to invest in these preventative strategies.”
Two weeks ago, the five-member county board balked at Peacock’s suggestion that they spend between $1.3 million and $2 million out of the county’s general fund to pay for 14 to 18 new full-time employees dedicated to the COVID-19 response. The employees would provide contact-tracing services as well as consumer protection support.
Commissioners at the time directed Peacock to find other solutions to pay for the infrastructure, which is designed to keep both residents and visitors safe.
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On Tuesday, Peacock lowered the number of proposed COVID-related full-time employees to 12 — eight contact investigators and four consumer protection employees — though he said that number of new employees would cost about the same amount of money as the larger number did two weeks ago.
The final estimate for the 12 employees — plus a public information spokesperson — was $1.7 million for 18 months, Peacock said.
However, he noted that Gov. Jared Polis has said that Pitkin County is set to receive $1.5 million in CARES Act funding the state will distribute. In addition, the county expects to receive $475,000 in further CARES Act funding in 2020 and 2021 meant to reimburse local governments for emergency COVID-related responses, he said.
Finally, Pitkin County is tentatively budgeting another $350,000 in reimbursement funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though those are not expected until 2022, Peacock said.
A majority of commissioners supported Peacock’s plan Tuesday, with Commissioner George Newman urging his fellow board members to give their chief executive permission to proceed and begin hiring staff.
“During states of emergency, we don’t have the luxury of time,” Newman said.
Commissioner Patti Clapper, however, disagreed. She said she wanted more assurances the county would receive the federal funding.
“I’m really having a hard time with this,” she said. “I’m not comfortable until we can vet the (funding) information.”
Peacock then told the board his staff is working 70 to 80 hours a week, which cannot continue. Projects must be slowed or staff reallocated if the money is not approved, he said.
“This is not sustainable, guys,” he said.
Commissioners will make a final decision on the funding Tuesday during a special meeting, when they will allocate the additional money or not.
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