A Welcome Challenge for a Rural County: Deciding How To Spend $1.8M

A welcome sign for Clear Creek County, Colorado along Interstate 70.

A welcome sign for Clear Creek County, Colorado along Interstate 70. iStock.com/Serenethos

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

In Clear Creek County, Colorado, federal relief dollars could go toward addressing long-term challenges in areas like housing and economic development.

The $1.8 million destined for Clear Creek County, Colorado under the $350 billion state and local aid program the Treasury Department is now running may seem unremarkable compared to the size of the total pool of money, or even the payments other localities will receive.

In fact, there are roughly 2,500 counties across the U.S. that will collect larger allotments, Treasury figures show—like Los Angeles County, in line to receive nearly $2 billion, and Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, slated to get $915 million. The program providing the funds was created by the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law known as the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Clear Creek County’s award appears modest against those huge sums. But with a population of about 9,700, the money is significant as the county transitions out of the pandemic, and tries to tackle longer-term challenges it faces. “$1.8 million is a lot of money for our county,” Alyssa Dinberg, Clear Creek’s Covid-19 recovery coordinator told Route Fifty

A look at the county offers a glimpse at how one of the thousands of local governments receiving federal aid is preparing to make decisions about what to do with the funding.

Mountains, Mining and Tourism

Clear Creek County is located in the Rocky Mountains, about 20 miles west of downtown Denver, along Interstate 70, the state’s main east-west highway. The county sprawls 396 square miles, more than one-third the size of the land area in Rhode Island. 

Total county revenues over the past five years have been around $30 million annually—the $1.8 million is equal to about 6% of that amount. The largest local taxpayer, accounting for about 36% of the county’s 2019 property tax base, is a large underground mining operation, known as the Henderson Mine. The mine produces molybdenum, which is used to make metal alloys. 

In recent years, the mine has seen layoffs. And the county’s most recent financial report notes falling tax revenues from it and says mine management has indicated the site will continue production at reduced levels through 2039. (The mine's owner did not respond to a request for comment asking about its plans for the site.)

Idaho Springs, Colorado, seen here in 2018, is one of the bigger municipalities in Clear Creek County. (iStock.com/littleny)

Tourism is also important to the local economy. There are destinations in the county itself, like the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, and people coming from the Denver metro area pass through en route to ski or take part in other outdoor activities further out in the mountains.

Like many communities across the country, maintaining an adequate supply of affordable and quality housing is a leading local concern. There’s also talk about how to diversify and strengthen the economy as the likely mine closure looms in future years.

Planning for ARPA Spending

The county is still in the early stages of deciding how to use its American Rescue Plan funds.

Dinberg, while emphasizing that she doesn’t have final say over how to spend the money, said she suspects it will go to programs that are geared towards addressing problems the county faces in areas like housing and economic development, which in some ways were put under an even harsher spotlight by the pandemic.

That’s opposed to using the money to fill immediate budget gaps, or to provide emergency assistance to residents and businesses. That’s what the county did, Dinberg explained, with an earlier round of federal aid provided under the law known as the CARES Act.

“CARES is more of that emergency money, like how can we stop the hemorrhaging right now?” she said. “ARPA is more of, sustaining, enhancing and improving our communities long term.” 

Something else significant about the new funding, she noted, is the leeway that governments have in how they use it. There are restrictions made clear in the law and in Treasury Department guidance released in May. But, in general, states and localities have wide latitude to deploy their funds. They also have years until they’ll hit a 2024 spending deadline. 

“It’s less about how much it is and more about the flexibility,” Dinberg said. “We have never been given money like this.”

Dinberg spoke to Route Fifty on June 10. At that time, the county was in the process of completing forms required to access the funds. “They don’t just magically appear,” she said. “It's through the federal government and it’s a fairly cumbersome process to even register.”

Beyond that, the county was in the early stages of establishing a framework for how it would make decisions about spending the money. An option under consideration involved two panels—a committee of different county department staff and an advisory team consisting of elected officials and other community leaders from organizations like the local school district.

CARES Money Left Over

As of early June, Clear Creek County still had about $238,000 of CARES Act funding left from about $1.6 million funneled there through the state. Dinberg said the county didn’t see budget revenues dramatically collapse during the pandemic, but it did end up using CARES dollars to cover unplanned costs.

For instance, the county put $61,000, supplemented by about $125,000 in foundation funding, toward grants to residents to help individuals struggling to pay expenses like rent and utility bills.

It also used CARES funding for about $878,000 of business support grants and $233,000 to forgive loans that businesses received from a local economic development corporation. 

“One of our goals with recovery was to ensure that there wasn’t any contracting of our economy,” Dinberg said. “We just do not have the flexibility to really lose many businesses.” Most businesses did survive the downturn and new ones have even opened, according to Dinberg. So far this summer, she said, anecdotal reports indicate that commerce is strong.

Regional Cooperation

Looking ahead, another consideration is ensuring that whatever Clear Creek does with its aid meshes with how municipalities within the county decide to use federal money they’ll receive through the state. It’s about “making sure that what we’re doing compliments the work that they’re doing,” Dinberg said, and “not competing or having priorities that are going in different directions.”

Earlier this month, the county was accepted into a state “recovery roadmaps” program that aims to provide technical assistance and grants for regional teams of rural communities “to drive economic relief, recovery, diversification and long-term resilience.” 

That initiative is funded by $2.3 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and $870,000 in state funds. EDA has seen a major funding boost during the pandemic.

The program is another reminder of how much federal money is now out there for communities to tap into. Dinberg said that, in general, her county will likely try to secure federal and state funding that’s available for projects before dipping into its own aid allocation. “There’s so many pots,” she added. “Not just the ones that have been given to the municipalities and counties.”

Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

NEXT STORY: Financial Service Providers Focused on Distressed Areas See $1.2B Influx

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.