Local governments concerned over CARES act funding

Posted at 9:57 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 00:25:38-04

COLORADO — A little more than $2.23 billion dollars are coming to Colorado from the CARES Act passed by congress. However, a portion of that will be allocated to counties with more than 500,000 people in its population. The criteria is putting some smaller counties on edge as they look at the possible impacts to budgets.

It's a concern as many local governments have already made cuts in Colorado.

The five counties receiving money from the CARES act are Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso, and Jefferson Counties. The population determines how much money the counties are eligible for, but the state keeps 55 percent of the money. Meaning out of the total $2.23 billion the state will have about $1.67 billion to manage and assign to state and local entities.

What exactly state governments can do with the money is something the legislature's Joint Budget Committee (JBC) will be figuring out in the coming weeks.

However, elected leaders in counties like Bent County are concerned.

"Every single county regardless of your size has seen a huge impact in this," said Bent County Commissioner Jean Sykes, like most counties a majority of the budget comes from property taxes. "we are an agricultural community, there isn't a lot of industry or businesses in our community we have a very limited amount of resources and opportunities."

Bent County also relies on grant programs to add money into its budget each year. Sykes says some of the public programs the county pays for include Bent County Transit and the county's community center. Both of those services aren't operating under the current COVID-19 restrictions.

"This isn't just about me or a group of individuals who may have gotten sick," said Sykes, who added as a county commissioner she's working with others to make the right decisions for about 5,500 people who live in the county.

The lack of guaranteed funds, is concerning for Sykes, "some [federal dollars] for each of us makes more sense than only the allocated amount for large communities," Sykes said.

Representative Daneya Esgar (Pueblo-D) is the chair of the Joint Budget Committee. Esgar says there are a lot of conversations surrounding the state's budget needs, most of it will be addressed when lawmakers return to work.

"Our top priority is to get through this crisis," said Esgar, "we know Coloradans are losing their jobs and we're facing a very difficulty recovery and that's what everyone is focused on right now."

With a loss of revenue from sales tax and figuring out how best to spend the federal dollars- there's going to be a lot on the plates of state legislators.

"It really is going to be a very tough job, we have so much that we have to sort through," said Esgar.

Esgar says the JBC is looking for some guidance from the Federal Treasury Department on how they can allocate the funds. There are certain restrictions on using the money for COVID-19 related expenses. Esgar says they're looking to see if the money can be used to backfill state entities that have taken a hit from the pandemic.

"We're making some pretty gut-wrenching decisions in the next few weeks," Esgar said. Still, Esgar says she sees a need to help out some of the smaller counties, including her home county of Pueblo. The JBC Chair believes there needs to be more money and flexibility from Washington.

"Nobody understand what a county needs better than a county commissioner, nobody understands what a state needs better than a state legislature," said Esgar, "for the federal government to be getting this money out the door quickly we appreciate, but when they put the limitations on it that they do sometimes it holds our hands back from being able to do the work that we need to do."

A big indicator of the needs for state and local funding will be the May forecast, coming from the state budget experts with the legislative council.