County relief program

For residents and businesses within the Gunnison Valley

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County has identified capital from its 2020 budget to create a COVID-19 economic recovery fund for local businesses and workers affected by the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Some money will go directly to individuals, and some will be used to leverage larger grants from sources outside the county.

County commissioners began discussing the response fund last week during their regular Tuesday morning meeting and have held two additional discussions to sort out some parameters and purposes for it. County attorneys will present a formal resolution, if possible, next Tuesday with specifics.

County manager Matthew Birnie and county finance director Linda Nienhueser said the county budget could reallocate approximately $615,000 from other areas to create the fund. The commissioners agreed to do so on April 14 and will now focus on the details in the coming week.

“The decision point today is to allocate that money to recovery and put some perimeters around that fund as far as how it can be used,” said commissioner John Messner. “Then give staff a couple of days or more to develop specific programs to roll out under the guidance we have given at this special meeting.”

He then read a draft to the rest of the board, stating that the fund would be created “with the purpose of supporting emergency needs of the residents and businesses of Gunnison County by this unprecedented public health crisis. Funding may be used for the programs associated with the economic recovery fund, including, but not limited to, business emergency needs; emergency assistance for food, housing, medical and utilities for residents; and matching funds for state, federal and independent grants targeted at economic recovery for the employers and employees specific to the region.”

Commissioner Jonathan Houck said he was concerned about a “feeding frenzy” once the funding is made available. “If every business comes in and asks for $10,000, that would only serve 60 businesses,” he said. That would also drain the fund for potential grants and needs that increase in the coming months. The hope is that many will repay the loan if and when they can, helping to perpetuate the assistance in a ‘pay it forward’ way.

Houck said he wants to have the balance to offer immediate help and then help down the road, and Birnie said he agreed that it is best to focus on one program now but hold back some money from the pot for those later ideas.

“I think it’s smart to create this fund and then be flexible in how we use it,” said Birnie, referring to various needs around the valley and the potential need to serve people who would not normally need assistance. After talking with the Housing Authority and Health and Human Services representatives, for example, he said, “Perhaps we could think about expanding eligibility for some of the different programs that already exist.”

The county will also be looking for significant grants, such as those of $1 million or more, that can meet the needs of businesses and individuals that will arise six or eight months from now.

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