Far too many in La Plata County are still feeling the impacts from COVID-19 that will last far beyond the actual public health emergency. To address those impacts, in 2020, Congress allocated funding to counties through the American Rescue Plan Act, from which La Plata County received $10,920,000. The commissioners have been strategic about how to deploy these onetime funds and during the last year, we held listening sessions and solicited proposals, receiving more than 70 from organizations and individuals.
We wanted to fund projects that will have a lasting impact on the economic recovery and health of youth and families, students and businesses. We opted to divide the ARPA funds among three general categories representing those most impacted by the pandemic: 40% on housing; 25% on broadband expansion; and 35% to address the social, health and economic impacts. Finally, we aim to help residents across the entire county.
The pandemic highlighted the broadband digital divide in rural areas. We are using ARPA funding to leverage a federal grant for two broadband projects. The first is the creation of a Carrier Neutral Location that will allow continued redundancy in our region and the state. The second, in partnership with Archuleta County, La Plata Electric Association and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, will establish connectivity on Highway 151 from Ignacio to Pagosa Springs to address middle mile redundancy and allow rural homes to access high speed internet along the way. Both of these projects will maximize dollars to help expand broadband in La Plata County.
For many students, learning suffered greatly during COVID-19. ARPA money is funding the Ignacio Community Library for a bookmobile with a mobile hot spot to reach youth/families in rural southeast La Plata County. United Way is receiving a large grant to help address learning gaps and the learning loss being felt across school systems. A consortium of outdoor-focused organizations will receive funds to improve the well-being and mental health of youth, through after-school initiatives and activities that reduce stress through exercise and being in the great outdoors.
Because affordable housing is likely the county's most pressing need, the county started a new Revolving Loan Fund that saved workforce housing in the Westside and Triangle Mobile Home Parks from predatory development. Housing Solutions for the Southwest also received ARPA dollars to assist with a water well upgrade at its workforce housing development, Southwest Horizons Ranch.
The county is addressing another key water need with the installation of a water dock near Marvel. This water dock will save residents wear and tear on their vehicles – plus gas money – and will ensure drinking water closer to home for hundreds of property owners on the west side of La Plata County.
The pandemic also exposed how tenuous our food security is here in La Plata County and a consortium of groups including Manna, La Plata Family Centers Coalition, the Old Fort, Good Food Collective and Durango Food Bank is working to build food systems, and do the necessary planning and food distribution work to support our local food producers in maintaining an unbroken food chain in La Plata County.
La Plata County has lost 92 residents to COVID-19 and no amount of money can ever offset such a loss. However, through our thoughtful and careful deploying of these precious taxpayers’ dollars, we’re doing our best to help recover from these trying past few years and focus on building a stronger community for the future of which we can all be proud.
The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners includes Matt Salka (Chair), commissioner District 3 ; Marsha Porter-Norton, commissioner District 2 ; and Clyde Church, commissioner District 1.