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State programs appear to offer little to local businesses

Pitkin County commissioners not impressed with options from Colorado Legislature

People wait in line to shop at Ute Mountaineer in Aspen on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Pitkin County commissioners were lukewarm Monday on two proposed state programs meant to benefit local businesses across the state.

The first would provide monetary relief to restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms, but requires a significant trade-off that commissioners didn’t think fair. The second is meant to reward businesses for enhanced COVID-19 protocols, though its parameters remain nebulous, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.

“This doesn’t even come close,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said of the monetary relief offered by a bill recently passed by the state Legislature.



Commissioner Greg Poschman agreed.

“This amounts to peanuts,” he said of the COVID Relief Bill.



That bill would provide money to small businesses like restaurants and gyms on a per capita basis, which in Pitkin County’s case would amount of a total of $102,000 with a maximum cap of $7,000 per business, said Peacock and Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury.

But those small numbers are not even the bad news.

In order for a county to qualify for the money, it must be under Red level restrictions by the state by Dec. 10, Peacock said.

While the county is currently under Orange level restrictions, Red would mean no in-house dining for restaurants, no informal gatherings like holiday or dinner parties and no indoor events at all as Aspen heads into the lucrative Christmas season, among other tighter restrictions.

“This is the time of year when these businesses make money for the rest of the year,” Clapper said.

Commissioner George Newman said going to Red is not a good compromise.

“There’s much more severe economic impacts to go to Red for not a lot of money going in to Christmas,” Newman said. “That will impact the community in all segments.”

Pitkin County’s incidence rate was within the Red restrictions for most of November, and those numbers have only gone up in December, according to local epidemiological data. If either the test positivity rate — which is moving up quickly — or the hospitalization rate, which has the potential to do so, rises to Red levels even for one day, the state will move the county to Red.

The other program briefed by Peacock on Monday is called the “Five Star Certification” plan and rewards businesses that enforce protocols like 100% mask wearing, daily symptom checks, regular outreach to customers and employees and recording contact trace information.

If a business is approved for the program, it could operate under the next lowest level of restrictions below the current level of the restrictions in the county where the business is located, Peacock said.

However, the program remains in development by the state and it is not yet clear if a business in Red zone counties can participate, he said. On the positive side, many businesses in Pitkin County already conduct many of the protocols outlined in the program, Peacock said.

The state wants to roll out the program on an ambitious timeline in the next two weeks or so, he said.

Finally, the state appears to have located funds to pay for community COVID-19 testing programs through the first quarter of next year, Peacock said. That funding, which has come through the federal CARES Act, is set to run out Dec. 30.


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