Over $2 million of CARES Act funding has been awarded to Montezuma County, to be dispersed to county and local municipalities for COVID-19 expenses.
The county was awarded $2,246,164 in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. It will be dispersed to Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, and Montezuma County according to population.
While the state has said the money can be used for COVID-19 expenses, local leaders say they are seeking clarification from the state about what that means.
“The sooner we can get help to the community, the better off we will be as a community,” Ben Burkett, Cortez finance director, told The Journal.
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs is distributing CARES Act funds to all but the five counties that have received funding directly from the federal government.
According to DOLA, through this distribution, local governments can request reimbursement for “necessary expenditures incurred” from the COVID-19 public health emergency that hadn’t been accounted for in the budget, and that were incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020.
Any unused funds will not carry over after Dec. 30.
To receive CARES Act funds, counties and municipalities must enter into an agreement as to how the money will be disbursed. Last week, leaders from Montezuma County, Mancos, Cortez and Dolores met to come up with such an agreement.
“We’re reimbursing the cost that we spent, setting aside about the same amount in case there’s a second wave in the fall, and trying to get the rest out through grants to local businesses, working in cooperation with Region 9 to make that happen,” Montezuma County Administrator Shak Powers told The Journal.
A crucial piece of the process is figuring out how to disburse the funds.
“It’s being distributed to governments, but the businesses need it a lot more than the government right now,” Powers said.
They decided the county should first be reimbursed for the money spent helping to purchase the BD/Max Analyzer for Southwest Memorial Hospital, and the remainder should be distributed based on population.
The county contributed $36,510 for the BD/Max Analyzer, leaving $2,209,654 after this was reimbursed.
The total population of Montezuma County is 26,158 people: the county has 15,060 residents (57.5%), Cortez has 8,721 (33.3%), Mancos has 1,419 (5.4%), and Dolores has 958 residents (3.6%).
CARES Act funds are being allocated based on these populations, with $735,814.78 going to Cortez, $119,321.32 going to Mancos, $79,547.59 to Dolores, and $1,270,551.05 to the county, on top of the BD/Max reimbursement.
A lot is still being figured out. The funding is meant to go toward COVID-19 expenses, but the all-encompassing impact of the virus makes it difficult to ascertain what is definitely “COVID-related.”
For example, while the pandemic has taken a toll on sales tax revenues, governing bodies aren’t allowed to use the money to backfill lost revenue.
“I cannot use the CARES Act to fill that gap between the budget and what actually came in,” Burkett said. “Even though it’s COVID-related, because everything was shut and we had less people shopping, less sales tax brought in.”
The city of Cortez has been brainstorming ways to use the money that will best serve the community. However, staff want to first receive answers from the state about how funds can be allocated, to make sure the city will be reimbursed.
“Like all the managers and elected officials, I want to spend our allocation locally but I also don’t want to put the city in a position where we have to pay back any portion of the ($735,814),” Cortez City Manager John Dougherty told The Journal.
So far, though, he said he has authorized some expenditures to be used for personal protective equipment (like masks) along with purchasing a “micro sprayer” for all city buildings so they can be quickly decontaminated.
In Mancos on Wednesday, the Town Board approved staff’s recommendations for how the money should be allocated: reimbursing COVID-related expenses, setting aside a reserve, upgrading technology to allow for remote meetings and supporting local businesses and nonprofits.
The reimbursements wouldn’t be able to cover personnel costs nor to “backfill lost revenue,” Mancos Town Administrator Heather Alvarez emphasized in her staff report.
“To date, we have spent approximately $1,229 on actual supplies and technology,” Alvarez wrote.
The supplies have included masks, hand sanitizer, PPE for the Marshal’s Office and Public Works Department, bleach, and remote access for some employees, Alvarez told The Journal.
Mancos staff asked that $2,000 be set aside in reserves for potential future expenses in case of a virus spike, and they plan to upgrade the A/V equipment in the Town Hall, so that meetings can be streamed via YouTube to the public.
“Finally, I would ask that the remainder of the funds, approximately $75,000 - $85,000 be returned to the local businesses and nonprofits in the form of grants,” Alvarez wrote in her report. “We would work with Region 9 on this program, and we would generally follow our current Agency Contribution guidelines with some modification.”
But this plan and its implementation are also still up in the air, she told The Journal.
Dolores Town Manager Ken Charles said he is waiting to find out more before sharing fund allocations.