Elizabeth Milias: A booster shot for the local economy
The Red Ant
It was heartening to read that as part of the local governments’ roles in providing economic relief for individuals, $200,000 has been offered up as initial assistance by the city of Aspen and another $850,000 by Pitkin County.
Considering the city’s $105 million annual budget and the county’s $141 million, one would assume that this is just a start, and that local citizens and businesses will eventually be the beneficiaries of more assistance than 0.4% of the total, but only time will tell. After all, at the city, these are some of the same folks who conducted $350,000 geothermal drilling experiments and ignored $600,000 of unpaid parking fees. Obviously, nix the non-essential capital expenses and don’t fill the job vacancies, but what else can the local governments do to quickly and tangibly help the local economy during these uncertain times?
• Enact emergency ordinances. This is how our electeds can quickly make big, bold ideas happen. Emergency ordinances allow for curtailed processes and provide for immediate implementation.
• Shrink the size of our local governments. With 320 full-time city employees and another 330 at the county, take a critical look at which positions are indeed “essential.” Furloughs and layoffs are an unfortunate reality of decreased revenue, just as in the private sector.
• Redirect planned Housing Development Fund expenditures. Postpone all new construction and instead put the anticipated expenditures toward buying back subsidized housing units from distressed owners, and convert these into rentals.
• Reduce municipal fees on land use and development. Reduce and/or eliminate many of the punitive fees placed on developers, such as the recent parking space and public right-of-way encroachment fee increases. These costs will ultimately be passed on to tenants and consumers which is exactly what the local economy cannot afford.
• Tap into The Wheeler Opera House Fund. This $30 million fund has long been the city’s proprietary low-interest slush bucket. This embarrassment of riches funded by the RETT can be quickly allocated where it is vitally needed.
• Re-evaluate the mill levies and consider property tax refunds. Open Space and Trails pulls in more than four times what the Healthy Community Fund does, and nearly twice that of the Aspen Valley Hospital. There is clearly room for some short-term reprioritizing, with the potential for refunds.
The government’s No. 1 priority is the health and welfare of the public. We have the financial wherewithal and therefore the luxury to do whatever is necessary. We also have a service-based economy and a workforce that relies on tourism and the money that is spent locally. The repercussions of the global pandemic and impacts on our economy and workers will be devastating, and that’s in the short term.
This community is special and takes care of its own, but COVID-19 is bigger than anything we have faced. Let’s not wait for the government to fix things. It’s not too soon to think of “recovery,” even while we are very much in the throes. In fact, we simply can’t wait until “it” is over. While we continue to wash our hands and stay at home, here are several ways you can make an immediate positive economic impact in support of our local businesses and workers today:
• Order take-out. Many establishments are still offering food and beverages. Your patronage enables them to stay open and to keep at least some of their workers busy. While they’re here for us, let’s be there for them.
• Purchase gift cards. The purchase of gift cards is like an interest-free loan to your favorite businesses and service providers, giving them desperately needed cashflow today. You’ll be spending the money anyway, so why not pre-pay now for goods and services you’d be purchasing later. If the business isn’t open, leave a message; someone will get back to you. Trust me, they’ll really appreciate it.
• Don’t forget to tip. It should be obvious; the service economy depends on tips.
• Deliver meals to friends and neighbors. There are many folks who can’t shell out for take-out right now. Pay it forward and buy someone dinner.
• Utilize online offerings. Many local exercise studios are offering free online classes. Nothing in life is free so tip your instructor. If a subscription is offered, buy it.
• Share your message of support and hope. These are frightening and uncertain times and the fix will not be easy nor quick. But your kindness and generosity will go a long way.
As we travel this new road together, the best thing we can do is be calm, be thoughtful and be safe. We are fortunate not to be in a densely populated area, but the virus is indeed here and everyone is susceptible. Please listen to the authorities and please take this seriously. Staying at home is going to get really old really fast, but please, for the good of the community, just do it.
While we can’t seem fix the S-curves, we can certainly flatten the COVID-19 one. Contact at TheRedAntEM@comcast.net.
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“If I was moving through the herd, the others would begin walking away, some of them at a jog, taking their calves with them, but the big brown ungulate would face me sideways, reluctant to move, not wanting to give any ground,” writes Tony Vagneur.