Through the Coronarivus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Elbert County will receive $2,294,004 in reimbursement to offset costs incurred for fighting the spread of the virus, protecting community members and helping restore economic balance within the county.
The money can be used for anything related to COVID-19, but any program, purchase or project must be completed by Dec. 30, 2020. The money cannot be used for already budgeted items or put into the general fund. Any money that is not used by the end of the year goes back to the State of Colorado.
“If we can spend every dime within our community we can make huge impacts here,” said Commissioner Chris Richardson, at the Aug. 12 Elbert County Board of County Commissioners meeting. “Anything not spent by the end of the year goes back to Colorado, and $2 million in Denver could have a much smaller impact than here.”
Under a county proposal for spending the money, $103,085 of the funds would be distributed proportionately to the towns of Simla, Kiowa and Elizabeth, under an intergovernmental agreement, and each town would use those funds for individual town needs. The county plan calls for $229,000 of the funds, approximately 10% of the CARES award, to be held in a contingency reserve.
County officials reached out to county departments and agencies, asking for ideas on how their departments could utilize the remainder of the funds, and came up with a list of 34 possible projects that might qualify for reimbursement. County Manager Sam Albrecht told commissioners the list is only a draft of ideas, and the county will spend the next few weeks prioritizing that list before it begins awarding funds.
A substantial portion of the funds, $600,000, is allotted for business grants to local businesses that were affected by the governor’s Stay at Home and Safer at Home orders, which would range from $1,000 to $10,000. Also, $50,000 could be allotted for nonprofit grants for county nonprofits such as food banks, and possibly could establish a meals-on-wheels program for local seniors. An estimated $75,000 could be used to hire one full-time public health employee who would perform data collection and contact tracing.
The two nursing homes in Elbert County are each slated to receive $2,500 for PPE and equipment, with $20,000 on the list to be used for a one-year supply of PPE for county operations. Hiring someone to develop audit and processing controls to administer the funds would cost about $50,000, and upgrading the Phoenix Technologies IT contract for COVID-19 support is estimated at $150,000.
Other ideas that made the list are one full-time employee for economic recovery, ($100,000), HVAC improvements to the jail to increase ventilation, ($150,000), replacing the county website content management system to support online transactions and support social distancing ($50,000), and the purchase of a remote-control robot for the sheriff’s office to use for delivery of meals, search of quarantine residences and other distantly controlled tasks, ($60,000).
Albrecht told commissioners that the process has been a bit frustrating, as they continue to get conflicting guidelines on what is acceptable from the state and federal level.
“The frustrating piece of this is that the agreement we got from the state, after we were told to follow federal guidelines, has some restrictions on the improvements that are different than the federal guidelines,” said Albrecht.
Albrecht said another challenge is the fact that they are competing with other counties and towns for some of the same services, and everyone must have their services completed by the end of the year.
“Every other county is buying PPE and updating their websites,” said Albrecht.
While county commissioners are hoping to take advantage of the CARES Act funding, some residents are not happy with the proposed list of projects, and question whether or not Elbert County should even be using the funds since they don’t believe the county is recognizing the severity of the pandemic or enforcing state mandates for social distancing and face coverings.
Resident Archie Aquino, PhD, has lived in Elbert County since 1994, and sent a letter to the commissioners expressing his concerns.
“I am concerned that Elbert County is receiving funds for conditions that the county has repeatedly indicated is not a problem in our rural neighborhood,” said Aquino. “If that is the case, we should allow other communities which have acknowledged COVID-19 as a serious issue be given access to funding for programs we do not need.
“The Elbert County Sheriff has stated that they will not be enforcing the Colorado State mandate for wearing masks in places of business. This was put in place by Governor Polis to mitigate the possible spread of the Coronavirus to susceptible individuals in our community. As a result, some businesses in Elbert County do not enforce the mandate as well. … If the Sheriff is not willing to safeguard our citizens, what makes me believe that the Sheriff’s department will take on any support of programs proposed by the BOCC?”
A full list of proposed projects can be found at https://elbertcoco.civicclerk.com/Web/GenFile.aspx?ad=1119.