Next steps with COVID-19 crisis; local officials starting to formulate a recovery plan

Opportunity to move toward shared goals

By Mark Reaman and Katherine nettles

Initial conversations about developing a Gunnison County COVID-19 Recovery Plan started early this week. The goal is to develop a framework to define benchmarks determining where the community stands in terms of the virus and coming up with strategies for resiliency. Ultimately, there is the idea of not only recovering the economy, but taking the opportunity to clearly define and move toward the type of long-term changes the community wants to implement in the future.

Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald told the Town Council on Monday, April 6 that initial meetings setting a path for recovery began this week and were comprised primarily of town managers and planners, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the Gunnison Watershed School District, the ICELab and the Crested Butte Community Foundation.

“We want this ultimately to be housed under the One Valley Leadership Council that has broad representation throughout the county,” MacDonald said. “This effort has just begun but we understand it will be hugely important as we move forward. We are taking a countywide approach to make sure decisions and resources are coordinated.”

The committee has initially decided that there should be short-term, mid-term and long-term recovery goals and strategies. The short-term efforts have already started; it is hoped the mid-term recovery plan can ramp up between May and December. The long-term planning could last one to two years or even longer.

But the overall planning calls for coordinated decision making and investment throughout the valley and county. The team wants to develop recovery milestones and articulate what recovery will look like. It also wants to identify strategies for improving the resiliency of the community and economy.

Gunnison County community and economic development director Cathie Pagano told the county commissioners this week that it was time to begin looking ahead. “We felt like we needed to start looking at medium and long-term planning,” she said. “So we’ve been utilizing Scott Morrill for his advice and recommendations for how we might best position ourselves for any future state and federal funding. We want to make sure we are well-poised for any funding opportunities.”

The mid-term recovery consists of an unknown time period in which the community begins to come out of social distancing restrictions.

“During this time we would be laying the groundwork for a long-term recovery,” explained MacDonald. “We want to start looking to the future and develop plans that can take advantage of any available funding from the federal or state governments.

“Again, we are in the very early phase,” but the ultimate goal, MacDonald explained, is to be ready to jumpstart the economic recovery, transition to a more sustainable economy and community, and achieve shared long-term goals throughout the valley.”

Those goals include climate action, sustainable tourism, affordable housing, economic sustainability and community health.

“The thematic areas we covered in OVPP are still what we want to talk about moving forward and build upon,” Pagano told the commissioners. “So community health and equity, how do we talk about folks meeting their most basic needs right now, youth issues, any other community health issues that may come up. Thankfully we have a lot of structures in place now that were not in place before OVPP like the Community Health coalition and the ICELab that will really help us move quickly and have folks in place already. So we want to build upon that, talk about with our constituents and with you all, the elected officials, what does resiliency mean going forward, how does it evolve?”

“What steps can we take now in this recovery to try to not be as vulnerable in the future to such an emergency?” MacDonald asked. “As we plan for this future, not only can we get the economy going but also have an eye toward those shared goals throughout the county.

“We are in a major disruption,” MacDonald continued. “That is very challenging but also presents an opportunity. How can we do things differently as we move forward? How do we, for example, address climate change or affordable housing? As we go through the process, think about how we can shape our future as a community differently.”

Mayor Jim Schmidt noted things such as construction should be considered in the process.

Council member Will Dujardin suggested the InDeed program that has been discussed by council to purchase deed restrictions on existing homes in exchange for local housing requirements might be a way to help “recession-proof” the housing stock.

MacDonald said, based on previous economic downturns, the federal government might provide even more stimulus funding than it has already. “Perhaps there are ways we can get that type of funding for such projects,” she suggested. “The GV-HEAT project,” which makes energy efficiency and home repairs accessible for households in Gunnison County, “is another possibility where funding could be used to upgrade homes. We need to be ready to see what sort of federal stimulus comes out of this. We want so-called shovel-ready projects that can be funded quickly.”

Citizen and regular council meeting attendee Kent Cowherd echoed there could be opportunity in the downturn. He had already heard of someone giving up their short-term rental license in town to long-term rent to locals. “We can perhaps whittle down the number of licenses available to find a better balance for the town,” he said.

MacDonald emphasized the recovery planning was in its infancy and a bigger-picture plan was still being conceived. “Details like that can come later. But this group is also committed to community involvement. That is important,” she said. “We want to spend time developing how that works in a meaningful way. That is where the One Valley Leadership Council can come in.”

“The framework for this is just getting started but some things have been going around and are being worked on,” noted council member Chris Haver. “This is a place to catch more ideas and thoughts.”

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