Town contributes to relief programs

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer
At special meetings Thursday evening, the Pagosa Springs Town Council and Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) approved a number of items aimed at helping local individuals, businesses and nonprofits who have been negatively affected by COVID-19.
Among them were emergency economic relief policies that provide certain fee and payment deferrals and waivers, as well as funding for community programs.
During the meeting, Town Manager Andrea Phillips projected that the council could allocate $100,000 to $125,000 for the programs it was considering, with that figure based off of an updated revenue projection and fund availability.
After having presented several possible scenarios on sales tax revenue at a work session the previous week, Phillips used a scenario that assumes a 50 percent sales tax reduction in March and July, a 75 percent reduction in from April to June and a 10 percent reduction from August to October.
In total, that scenario projects a 28.8 percent loss in sales tax as compared to the budgeted amount of $2,904,809, making the projection with COVID-19 $2,060,077.
The spending calculation also takes into account reduced fines and fees, as well as fund reserves that are required and available fund balances.
That amount, Phillips’ spreadsheet reveals, leaves $75,255.
She further explained that changes to the town’s planned expenditures, including a hiring freeze and the possibility of changing or delaying projects meant the council could probably allocate $100,000 to $125,000 at the meeting, with the possibility of allocating more later.
The council allocated $124,000 in funding during the meeting.
Emergency economic relief policies
Resolution 2020-09, an emergency economic relief policy approved unanimously by the town council, provides for:
• Business licenses (new and annual renewals): deferred collection of fee for 90 days with no late fees or penalties.
• Plan review fees: waiver of fees.
• Development application fees: waiver of fees.
• Building permit fees: deferred collection of fees (50 percent of fee due at building permit application and remaining 50 percent due at time of issuance of Certificate of Occupancy).
• Geothermal heating utility payments: deferred collection of monthly utility payments for 90 days with no late fees or penalties starting with February payment due in March (deferred for February, March, April).
• Lodging tax collections (town only): deferred collection of monthly lodging tax payments for 90 days with no late fees or penalties starting with March payment due in April (deferred for March, April, and May).
Resolution 2020-03, the economic relief policy approved unanimously by the PSSGID, provides for deferred sanitation utility payments for 90 days with no late fees or penalties starting with the February payment due in March. This is only for accounts that were in good standing as of the effective date of the resolution.
Region 9 Disaster
Assistance Loan Program
The town council also opted to partner with the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado on the Region 9 Disaster Assistance Loan Program to increase the funding available for Archuleta County businesses.
The program, as an informational flyer provided to the council states, “is designed to help those that are currently in business and who have a plan to continue their business operations after the COVID-19 crisis.”
It provides low-cost $1,000 to $10,000 loans to help cover essential business expenses such as payroll, rent and utilities.
The loans are provided without interest if paid back within the first six months, with 1 percent interest for six to 12 months, converts to prime interest rate after one year and amortizes on a 24- to 48-month term with flexible collateral.
In speaking with the council, Region 9 Executive Director Laura Lewis Marchino explained the agency wasn’t sure what the demand would be, with other programs coming down from the state and federal levels.
She noted that Region 9 had received 10 applications as of that day and in two weeks had fielded 169 calls.
She later added that Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation was looking at putting money into the program also.
In response to questions from council member Matt DeGuise, Lewis Marchino explained that, since it is a loan program, Region 9 is hoping the money will be paid back and returned to the town.
The council opted to add $20,000 to the fund, doubling the amount previously available, and voted to have council member Nicole DeMarco sit on the loan committee.
For more on the program, visit https://scan.org/uploads/DALP_Program.pdf.
Emergency micro-grant program
The council then considered partnering with the First Southwest Community Fund (which is managed through First Southwest Bank) to provide seed money for an emergency micro-grant program in Archuleta County.
The program provides grants to small businesses and nonprofits who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.
The funding, an agenda brief on the topic explains, “is designed to enable businesses to keep their operations going and prevent job loss.”
The funding, it states, can be used to cover staff costs, wages or other expenses that will prevent job loss or layoffs, and cover utilities or other business operational costs to “keep the lights on.” Funding cannot be used for debt payments.
The funds, Phillips told the council, would not be expected to be paid back.
“They can deploy this very quickly,” Phillips said of the program.
Following discussion on what parameters would allow the town’s funding to help more, the council unanimously voted to contribute $30,000 to the fund, which will serve Archuleta County businesses with five or fewer employees. Grants will be available for $1,500 to $3,000.
The first deadline to apply is April 10 and the second deadline to apply is April 24.
For more information on the program and how to apply, visit https://www.fswcf.org/covid-19.
Pagosa Outreach
Connection
The council members then turned their attention toward helping individuals who have been laid off or had their hours drastically reduced due to COVID-19.
For that, the town council considered partnering with the Pagosa Outreach Connection (POC) to provide onetime payments.
In beginning the conversation, council member David Schanzenbaker asked about the possibility of getting real-time unemployment filing information, citing the large number of filings in March and indicating the town needed to be prepared for a large response.
The council members then delved into the parameters for the payments, with council member Madeline Bergon suggesting the parameters shouldn’t be too strict and the payments should help promote peace of mind and a positive mental attitude.
She gave the example of someone being able to use the funding for something like a garden.
Michelle Huck of the POC told the council that the POC sees its assistance as a hand up, not a hand out, and the folks who sit on the board are very conservative with assistance.
She noted the program tries to cap assistance at about $800 and tries to make sure it doesn’t have the same people frequently requesting assistance.
Later in the meeting, she explained the typical request is $800 to $1,400 for rent.
POC’s Kim Domingo added that the program also makes sure applicants are tapping into other resources, and noted the council could have a representative on the board.
Phillips noted that the program the POC has set up is fantastic, adding that council’s goal is to provide immediate gap financing.
Huck explained that the POC had talked about a smaller group considering the requests (the board is normally 20-25 people, and could be four or five for requests for the town’s funds) to make disseminating the help from the town more streamlined.
Throughout the discussion, multiple council members suggested having employers report their numbers of people laid off or reduced, as well as the identities of those people to help streamline the process of getting money into the hands of those people — an idea council member Tracy Bunning spoke against later in the meeting, expressing concerns with its legality.
With that, the council members pivoted to having the POC verify employment.
Council discussed several different funding amounts for the program throughout the discussion, finally landing on putting $50,000 toward the program and putting a $200 cap on each request.
That onetime payment will go toward those who have been laid off or had a 50 percent reduction in hours due to COVID-19.
Bergon will sit on the committee.
For more information on applying for the funding, see related article in this issue.
COVID-19 Community Emergency Relief Fund
The council also considered putting money into the COVID-19 Community Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).
“The Community Foundation of SW Colorado created a Community Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to provide assistance to non-profits serving people impacted by COVID-19. https://www.swcommunityfoundation.org/cerf/,” the agenda brief for the item states.
The brief further states: “Donations are now being accepted to deploy funds to community-based organizations directly responding to the most vulnerable members of our community.
“Service organizations can seek grant funding through the CERF to help families and individuals. The CERF accepts donations from individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments. Assistance includes food banks (e.g. Food Equity Coalition), housing assistance and other programs meeting basic needs. Should Council wish to donate funds to the CERF, they can be earmarked for nonprofits serving our community.”
Council opted to contribute $20,000 to the fund with the caveat it would benefit Archuleta County residents.
Economic recovery
task force
Phillips then surfaced the idea of forming an economic recovery task for taking a more wholistic look at recovering from the pandemic.
“Beyond the immediate strategies for assistance for businesses and individuals impacted by the pandemic, mid-term and longer-term strategies will be needed to help impacted businesses, as well as our local economy as a whole. The Council may wish to consider working with our partners to start an Economic Recovery Task Force (name TBD) that would begin meeting very soon with stakeholders to plan for when businesses can reopen and economic recovery beyond this time,” an agenda brief on the topic states. “Impacts to our local economy will be seen in March/April and perhaps for several months beyond. Ideally the businesses can reopen soon and people can get back to work, but we will need to prepare now for the future impacts that could be felt for a while.”
The council members approved of the idea, with Mayor Don Volger and Matt DeGuise volunteering to sit on the task force.
“Yes, I strongly support this decision,” Bergon said.
Take Out Tuesdays
The town also voted to allocate $4,000 for an initiative called Take Out Tuesdays.
According to the Web page for the initiative, “Sponsored by the Town of Pagosa Springs, Archuleta County, Census 2020 and the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Takeout Tuesdays aims to connect Archuleta County residents with local restaurants while sharing critical and timely information about the local government response to COVID-19. This program represents a community effort to bring some normalcy while managing through Stay at Home orders and social distancing requirements during the month of April.”
For more information on the program and participating restaurants, visit https://riffraffbrewing.com/takeout-tuesdays/.

This story was posted on April 9, 2020.