Local boards figuring out COVID funding

So far millions of dollars in time and money spent on the effort

[ By Mark Reaman ]

Local governments this week deliberated on how to allocate more money to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Led by Gunnison County, the local entities have budgeted another $127,000 for the first half of 2021. That will be on top of the millions of dollars spent so far between governments, local non-profits, private businesses and individuals to deal with COVID-19 since last spring.

Much of the new funding will go toward vaccine operations, data management and communications but those are also expected to need more money for the second half of 2021.

During the February 16 Gunnison County commissioner meeting, Cathie Pagano and Loren Ahonen, who are heading up the COVID Recovery Team efforts, updated the commissioners on what has been spent so far by local government. Money has been spent on a variety of things including HEPA Air Filters, business support, the COVID Critter marketing campaign, childcare support, assistance for people needing mental health counseling, mortgage assistance and much more.

Perhaps the most striking tabulation is that in terms of staff time, the county has paid out $5.7 million through February 1 to employees dealing with COVID-19 related matters. The Tourism and Prosperity Partnership has spent $961,000, the City of Gunnison $456,406, the Gunnison Watershed School District is in for $439,434, the Town of Crested Butte for $30,343 and the Town of Mt. Crested Butte for $3,401.
“A lot of truly significant action has been taken in all the jurisdictions within the county,” Pagano told the commissioners. “The staff time totals are really quite astounding.”

“I know it is a lot of money but it is surprising to see the personnel costs coming from a fairly small county,” added county manager Matthew Birnie.

“To be clear, it was a multi-pronged, shared effort,” added Ahonen. “It has been a significant investment effort by the entire community.”

Both Pagano and Ahonen noted the funding and effort that has come through local non-profits like the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley and the Gunnison Country Food Pantry. On top of that, acknowledgment of contributions from private businesses and individuals were also appreciated. “As just one example, we were fortunate to receive support from the CFGV for rent, utility and food assistance for community members,” she said.

Pagano said that while the official poverty level in the U.S. was about $24,000 a year for a family of four, it took three times that to pay bills and put food on the table for a family residing in Gunnison County. She said that is why the county was looking not just at funding large projects but also making sure individuals did not slip through cracks.

In a memo to the commissioners, Pagano and Ahonen made clear that, “The Recovery Team anticipates that we will continue to communicate with HHS (Health and Human Services), the Incident Command team, and other stakeholders to identify ongoing needs in our community. We propose revisiting additional funding needs for the latter half of 2021 in May-June.”

Pagano said the new $127,000 would be split by the county and municipalities based on population. “We appreciate that the municipalities are willing to step in and help,” she said. Under her proposal the county would allocate $59,690, the City of Gunnison would donate $48,260, Crested Butte would put up $12,700 and Mt. Crested Butte would contribute $6,350.

All the local municipalities agreed to the funding structure as outlined by the county. It is also expected that some, but not all, of the public money could be reimbursed through federal relief programs.

“COVID relief is an ever-changing task,” said county commissioner Jonathan Houck. “And we still have a long way to go. The generosity of not just the governments, but the non-profits, businesses and individuals has been great.”

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