The town of Ignacio focused on utility and technology support after receiving about $60,000 of the $4.8 million in federal COVID-19 relief money allocated to La Plata County governments.
The money, from the CARES Act relief package, has helped to mitigate the far-reaching financial impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Around La Plata County, the money has gone to business relief funds, the airport, residents and more. For Ignacio town staff members, the plan is to continue offering utility relief to the public while looking into other ways to help.
“We’ve done the best that we can,” said Mark Garcia, interim town manager. “We have responded to the need, and we’re doing what we can.”
Ignacio received about $35,000 in the first distribution of federal relief money.
The town spent more than $20,000 on technology upgrades, such as laptops and PC work stations, for town staff members and elected officials, who have been working and training remotely, Garcia said.
Ignacio Town Hall closed to the public in the first weeks of the pandemic in Colorado, prompting staff members to work from home and public meetings to be held remotely.
The town covered unbudgeted expenses for COVID-19 personal protective equipment with its relief money. It also began to accrue unplanned attorney fees as it worked through code issues related to enforcing public health orders, Garcia said. He did not have a total cost available for those expenses Wednesday.
For residents and businesses, Ignacio halted late fees and utility shutoffs during the public health emergency. It started offering utility bill relief in mid-fall, Garcia said.
Some customers were late or unable to pay utility bills in full, or at all. Others paid their utility bills by not paying other expenses, he said.
If the town’s utility customers can provide documentation that they had financial losses related to COVID-19, the town can help them with their utility bills, he said.
The relief is provided on a case-by-case basis depending on the customer’s needs. Town staff members have started working on possible relief with several customers, and some have received cost reimbursement. Garcia didn’t say how much money has been allocated so far.
Ignacio received an additional $25,000 in federal relief money in December and has until the end of 2021 to use it. Durango received an additional $300,000 in relief money, and Bayfield received $150,000 in December.
Ignacio does not currently plan to use the federal relief money for business support beyond utility relief, in part because there are several financial support options already available, such as La Plata Cares grants.
“A lot of businesses are doing fine,” Garcia said, based on town staff members’ conversations with the community. “We just haven’t heard from businesses that they need assistance.”
Staff members plan to survey existing COVID-19 relief programs and see what it can do to help, he said.
One suggestion during a town board meeting Monday was to find ways to help landlords impacted by the pandemic.
For example, Meadow Brook Park, a mobile home community in Ignacio, has had four tenants move away, leaving between $800 and $1,000 in utility bills, not counting unpaid rent. Those bills become the property owner’s responsibility, said Sharon Craig, co-owner of the park and town trustee.
Craig said the town could use federal relief money for landlords in similar situations or consider a policy solution, such as capping the amount of unpaid utility bills before service is shut off.
In total, Durango has received about $1 million from the CARES Act; Bayfield received $253,800; and La Plata County, $3.5 million.
“Of all the communities in this region, we were the smallest (allocation) of them all,” Garcia said. “We’re doing the best we can to get it out and to eligible expenses.”