As in every state, county, and township across the country, Mesa County officials are eagerly awaiting details on how to use money from the COVID-19 relief effort recently approved by Congress in March.
All of these governments have no way of knowing what they would spend the expected money on – nearly $ 30 million for Mesa County – until the Treasury Department tells them exactly what the guidelines are.
These guidelines are expected to be released within weeks, despite the fact that they said so shortly after Congress approved the US rescue plan in early March, joked Pete Baier, administrator of Mesa County.
Still, the district officials are already thinking about what to do with it.
“We asked our department heads and elected individuals to look at projects on ‘This money should help the community recover from the pandemic’,” said Baier. “Obviously the county offers a lot of services, be it health department or human services or even our law enforcement agencies. It’s difficult because the finance department’s guidelines haven’t been published and we don’t know what to do. “
In an informational document released by the Treasury Department shortly after the law was passed, the department said the $ 350 billion in emergency direct funding to state, local and tribal governments it included is intended to offset their pandemic-related expenses and any revenue to make up for losses.
That document doesn’t say much beyond that, other than that governments can also use the money to help their residents, businesses, and nonprofits recover faster from what the pandemic did to their economies.
To achieve this goal, at least in part, the money could include infrastructure projects for water, sanitation and broadband services.
Baier said the county is not only speaking to other local governments that don’t see a lot of money, like Fruita and Palisade, to fund some potential joint projects, but also to nonprofits and select industries.
“For example, childcare was a problem in the valley,” said Baier. “Can we help train additional child carers, or something like that? It’s nice to know we have some money, but it’s a bit difficult to sit here like kids at Christmas waiting to see the rules. “
While some local governments in the nation have been harder hit than others because of the pandemic economy, not so much for the county.
Like the Colorado legislature at the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, Baier let his county department find ways to drastically cut spending over fear of what the economic shutdown would do financially to the county government.
But because sales tax revenues have actually increased and property taxes – the two largest sources of income – have not been affected, the county government has not suffered any real financial loss.
Just the opposite. The county’s sales tax revenue increased by nearly $ 866,000 from March 2020, when the pandemic started, to March 2021, an increase of 9.3%.
The county’s total sales tax revenue for 2020 was nearly $ 37 million, down from $ 35 million in 2019 and $ 30 million in 2017.
The county had also built a general fund reserve balance when it approved its annual budget, a type of rainy day fund, of approximately $ 15.3 million. Because of the increased revenue, the county now has around $ 22.8 million in reserve.
“There were three main components that drove that number up, one of which is sales tax,” Baier said.
The other two were temporary budget cuts, including vacancies, and of the $ 5.8 million the county received from last year’s COVID-19 relief effort, Baier said.
Baier said the county’s revenue from use taxes, property taxes on vehicles, and severance taxes have decreased, but those revenue streams are small compared to sales and property taxes.