County and town fly through relief funds for local business

“We knew that this would not be enough”

By Katherine Nettles and Mark Reaman

Local businesses took little time to apply for local grant and loan assistance programs. Just after establishing its “Pay It Forward” COVID-19 Business Emergency Loan Fund in partnership with Region 10 to help assist Gunnison County businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the application process was closed due to an “overwhelming” response in the program’s first few days.

Gunnison County commissioners have since authorized up to $100,000 to be added to the fund to cover more loans and associated costs, but the application process will not be reopening anytime soon.

Meanwhile the town of Crested Butte went through its $100,000 relief fund that granted up to $2,500 per local business in a matter of days as well. Crested Butte finance director Rob Zilliouz said 57 requests and 42 grants were accomplished in two and a half days. “It was highly successful with a lot of grateful people,” he told the council Monday.

Town of Crested Butte refuels the fund

The council decided to replenish the fund with another $25,000 and earmark a second $25,000 in matching funds if other people contribute to the cause. The application deadline is Friday, May 8 and details of the program qualifications can be found on the town website.

Council members Chris Haver of Purple Mountain Bed and Breakfast and Candice Bradley of Calico Queen Tattoo had recused themselves from discussing the small business relief fund; both applied for and received $2,500 from the fund last week.

Haver and Bradley recused themselves again from discussing or voting on the additional funding. Council member Will Dujardin said the council should consider setting aside money for businesses that might continue to have financial struggles in June.

Overwhelming county response

The county and Region 10 partnership loan program was created and funded by Gunnison County with an initial investment of $250,000, with all loans being managed by Region 10. The initial amount would allow about 33 loans up to $7,500 apiece, the maximum amount to be granted. The county issued a press release on April 29, stating “Approximately 60 businesses submitted applications for up to $7,500 to Region 10 as of 1:30 p.m. today, when the decision was made to close the application process. All applications submitted before the closure will receive a response directly from Region 10 by the close of business on Monday, May 4, 2020.”

Gunnison County manager Matthew Birnie briefed commissioners on the status of the loan program on April 30, confirming it had shut down applications after receiving far more applications than the funds could manage. “We have had an overwhelming response to the loan program. From the beginning we knew that this would not be enough for every business,” Birnie advised, adding that the loan program is only one part in the county’s three-pronged fiscal approach to economic relief.

Commissioner Roland Mason added that this program “is only meant as a short-term fix for many businesses,” and should not be considered a long-term solution.

Commissioner John Messner agreed, calling the loan program “only one immediate effort in a multi-tiered approach. And the next step is to leverage some funds to get a more significant amount of money. That’s the next big step.”

The third prong to the approach is addressing the needs for food, rent, personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical assistance (and possible testing) at the county level. Gunnison County Health and Human Services director Joni Reynolds said that individual states will be responsible for getting their own PPE after June, and federal assistance with masks and other related body substance isolation or disinfectants will come to an end. Reynolds estimated that PPE alone would cost Colorado approximately $300 million, so state officials and counties are looking at how to fund that ongoing need.

Reynolds said she has a few goals for testing, which will be another cost to the county. First, she said, she hopes to attain testing to cover high-risk zones such as the senior center. Then would come new patient contact testing, and then random sampling across the county’s population.

Mason reported that Region 10 would receive around $6.3 million in funding between state and federal grants of various types. “So there will be a good amount of resources for our community to use through Region 10,” he said.

Region 10 is also holding loans for several other counties within its membership, and the organization is now reviewing applicants. Birnie said that will take some time, given the response, and then they can begin to do the underwriting work.

“Region 10 is really overwhelmed,” said Birnie.

The commissioners agreed to add up to another $100,000 to the loan fund, and authorized Birnie to do that as needed. As businesses pay their loans back, other applicants can obtain the funds in keeping with the “Pay it forward” concept.

Birnie said he is looking into a 10 percent rebate option the county has offered as incentive to those who repay the loan within six months. The county had settled on issuing the rebate in Butte Bucks and Gunnison Greenbacks, but Butte Bucks is a discount program, he pointed out.

“Offering discounts wasn’t really the intention there, so we may need to find another mechanism,” Birnie said, that still keeps the rebate restricted to local businesses.

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