Routt County launches survey asking residents how to spend $5M in pandemic aid
With nearly $5 million to spend in pandemic relief aid from the federal government, Routt County launched an online survey Thursday allowing residents to share how they feel this money should be spent.
How the county is going to spend this money has been an ongoing discussion at commissioner meetings for months, and the county already has the first half of the money in the bank. County staff has identified several projects, like water infrastructure in Phippsburg and Milner, but commissioners have not decided how any of that money will be spent yet.
“We’ve committed to a process to reach out to the community and then prioritize projects,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan in an interview last week.
The money comes at an interesting time, as the county also has a surplus of regular revenue this year, in addition to the aid from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress back in March. Commissioners have called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I believe in being a leader, but I want to lead in the direction that people in the community want to go,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond. “I look at this as everybody’s money.”
The survey, which can be accessed at Co.Routt.co.us, has been launched and will be available for residents to fill out until Oct. 22.
This money is not simply a blank check, as there are six basic criteria laid out for what it can be spent on from the U.S. Department of Treasury — covering pandemic-related public health expenses, funding water and sewer infrastructure, increasing broadband access, addressing negative economic impacts from the pandemic and giving essential workers additional hazard pay.
The money also can be used to replace revenue that has decreased because of the pandemic. The county is projecting that overall revenue will be higher than expected this year, but some individual areas may see a decrease. If used to make up for lost revenue, the aid money loses many of the restrictions for how it can be spent.
The money cannot be used to lower taxes or make payments into pension funds, according to treasury guidance.
The idea of sending residents a survey surfaced when projects were discussed last month, and commissioners expressed the hope of getting high-level feedback from residents about their priorities for spending the money.
The survey consists of 13 questions, with most looking for a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” response to a resident’s favorability in spending the money on various themes.
The themes are water and sewer infrastructure, broadband, affordable housing, support small businesses with loans or grants, give premium pay to essential workers, give premium pay to child care workers, boost mental health services and increase COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Each municipality in the county is also receiving funds from the pandemic relief measure in addition to the $4.98 million Routt County will receive. The city of Steamboat Springs has its own $3.3 million, Hayden will get about $495,000, Oak Creek will get $125,000, and Yampa will get $116,000. Each received the first half of the funding this year, with the rest coming in 2022.
There are enough projects already top of mind for county officials that this money could be spent on. A list presented to commissioners late last month totaled nearly $6 million, and some of the projects didn’t have a cost estimate.
Still, commissioners have emphasized they do not want to rush this process and believe that reaching out to the community could spur more potential projects.
“They’re the ones out there living day to day and see the problems from a different vantage point than elected officials,” Redmond said. “If they can share that with me, and I can see that perspective, then I can have a better understanding of how to effectively use that money to improve their lives.”
The county needs to finalize its spending plan by the end of 2024, with the dollars physically being spent by the end of 2026.
Two of the most significant projects on the county’s wishlist would overhaul water treatment infrastructure in the unincorporated towns of Phippsburg and Milner. Each system was installed in the 1980s, no longer meet state seepage regulations and need to be fixed. This could cost anywhere from $600,000 to $1.5 million for each town, depending on the type of new treatment plant built.
Redmond said that while it may sound like a lot, $5 million really doesn’t go that far. Still, he is hoping they can use this money to leverage other private partnerships or grant opportunities that can spread the impact further.
“We’ve gone through a bit of a traumatic year and a half, which has showed us our fracture lines and our weaknesses, so now we have a better understanding of our problems,” Redmond said. “I feel like we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pick a course, set some standards and goals for our community and move toward them.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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