Survey: Residents want $5M pandemic stimulus spent on housing, broadband, child care |

Survey: Residents want $5M pandemic stimulus spent on housing, broadband, child care

Residents in Routt County want to use the nearly $5 million in COVID-19 stimulus dollars to address local crises such as a lack of affordable housing and child care options locally, a county-run survey shows.

The survey is part of the Routt County Board of Commissioners’ effort to involve the public in the process of deciding how to spend the money, which the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March.

A majority of residents surveyed said they favored spending the federal aid on these two issues, as well as improving broadband infrastructure around the county, though commissioners have often cautioned that $5 million isn’t as much money as it seems.

“When we first heard about this money, we were all excited,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan, when results were presented Monday. “I think as time has gone by, we’ve quickly recognized how easy it will be to spend $4.9 million.”

The survey consisted of 13 questions, some demographic in nature, followed by questions asking which areas the county should spend the money on, with residents answering “yes,” “no” or “maybe.” The last question asked residents to rank their top three priorities.

On the direct questions about supporting affordable housing, 63% of residents said they were in favor, with another 17% on the fence. About 20% of respondents said they were not interested in spending aid on affordable housing.

Affordable housing also received the most first-place votes of any of the themes on the last question, with 156 people ranking it first compared to 105 people ranking investment in water and sewer infrastructure first, which was second highest.

Corrigan said when looking at rankings, he felt like people who were voting for housing were also voting to increase water and sewer infrastructure, as he sees the two as closely related.

While it was second when ranked by residents, water and sewer infrastructure received the fifth-highest number of “yes” votes on the direct questions out of the eight areas, garnering 48% of the total votes.

Of the 310 people who voted “yes” for affordable housing, just 151 of them also said “yes” for water and sewer infrastructure, according to an analysis of the raw survey data by Steamboat Pilot & Today. Respondents supportive of housing said “yes” to four other areas more frequently.

The county has two specific water projects in mind — wastewater treatment plant improvements in both Phippsburg and Milner — when discussing this infrastructure. Corrigan said repairs to the town of Oak Creek’s water supply, which are estimated to cost $13 million, are another project that comes to mind.

But this type of infrastructure could also prove to be a significant hurdle along the path to developing affordable housing, perhaps most notably the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch west of Steamboat.

“From my perspective, spending on water and sewer is spending on affordable housing,” Corrigan said, agreeing with County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman, who said he believes water infrastructure is important to increase housing.

Commissioners Beth Melton and Tim Redmond were not at the presentation of survey results Monday.

Overall, 52% of respondents said “yes” to providing premium pay for child care workers amid a shortage that has caused families to lose their care, higher than the 46% that said they would support giving premium pay to essential workers on a similar question. Of the 310 who said “yes” to housing, 199 of them also said “yes” to boosting pay for child care workers, according to Pilot & Today’s analysis.

About 57% of respondents said they approved spending the money on broadband infrastructure — the second highest when it came to “yes” votes — something that some of the federal dollars are already committed to. Corrigan said commissioners have pledged to support the South Routt School District’s broadband project up to $150,000 for poles in and around Oak Creek.

In all, the county will receive $4.98 million, half of which it already has. But 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.

During the roughly three weeks the survey was in the field, ending on Oct. 22, 490 residents responded, with a relatively even mix of ages. About 70% of residents surveyed live in Steamboat Springs, 15% in South Routt, 10% in West Routt and 5% in North Routt. Of all respondents, only one said “no” to spending money on each of the themes, with the rest saying “yes” or “maybe” to something.

Almost 50% of survey respondents said they would support money going toward behavioral health services like mental health treatment and substance abuse programs, the fourth highest percentage.

About 37% said they would support using the money for small business loans or grants — something commissioners used previous aid money to provide — with another 36% saying “maybe.”

In what is likely another sign of pandemic fatigue, just 30% of residents surveyed said they supported spending the money to increase COVID-19 mitigation efforts, the only question where more residents said “no” than “yes.”

There needs to be a clear plan for how the money will be spent by the end of 2024, and the money needs to spent by the end of 2026. While commissioners have said they don’t want to drag things out when considering how to spend these dollars, they also want to take the time to make decisions that reflect the community’s desire.

“We won’t be making any decision on how to spend these ARPA funds in the very near future,” Corrigan said. “We’re going to be spending some time figuring this out.”

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