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La Plata County spends nearly half of its American Rescue Plan Act funds

Investments in housing, broadband and other projects total $4.68 million so far
La Plata County has already disbursed $4.68 million of $10.9 million the county will receive from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, using much of the money it set aside for affordable housing and homelessness. Commissioners believe they are meeting their goal to invest in intergenerational projects that better the lives of La Plata County’s residents. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

La Plata County has moved quickly to distribute American Rescue Plan Act money after the Department of the Treasury released its final rules in early January.

In five months, the county has allocated nearly half its ARPA funding as a number of projects have come to the county’s attention. While the deadline for spending the money is more than two years out, the county argues the early spending meets its criteria for investing in generational projects to serve the needs of residents.

“The need is there and we’re addressing really vital needs with these funds, which was exactly what they’re intended for,” said Ted Holteen, spokesman for La Plata County.

La Plata County has so far allocated $4.68 million of the $10.9 million the county will receive from ARPA, President Joe Biden’s federal COVID-19 relief package that passed in March 2021.

At a glance

La Plata County has allocated about $4.68 million of its approximately $10.9 million American Rescue Plan Act money. Here’s a look at how the money is being spent:

$1.7 million to establish a revolving loan fund for affordable housing.

$1.7 million for the purchase of four parcels along U.S. Highway 160 for a managed camp.

$706,500 for two broadband projects.

$300,000 to replacing the HVAC unit at the Durango-La Plata County Emergency Communications Center.

$275,000 to the Durango Fire Protection District to purchase an ambulance specifically for mental health crises.

Of the $4 million county commissioners designated for affordable housing and homelessness, the county has disbursed $3.4 million – $1.7 million to establish a revolving loan fund for affordable housing and $1.7 million for the purchase of four parcels along U.S. Highway 160 for a managed camp.

The $1.7 million revolving loan fund allowed the county to loan Elevation Community Land Trust and Westside Mobile Park $1.5 million to purchase the park and preserve more than 50 units of affordable housing. The county is also using the fund to aid HomesFund and residents of Triangle Trailer Park in their purchase of the mobile home community directly west of Westside.

“The thing that we needed to address with workforce housing, affordable housing, attainable housing, all those key terms, is that we’ve also got to keep our inventory,” said Commissioner Matt Salka. “That would have been 66 homes lost and that was something that the commissioners did not want to have happen. That’s why we were glad that we had those funds for housing to help those families.”

Unlike other uses of ARPA money, the loans will come back to the county to assist with affordable housing projects into the future, Holteen said.

When county commissioners earmarked the ARPA money in early March, they also set aside $2.5 million for broadband and $3.5 million to address the social impacts of the pandemic.

The county has apportioned $706,500 to two broadband projects. Matching grant funds in the amount $500,000 will go toward the installation of fiber along Colorado Highway 151, while another $206,500 in matching grant funds will help to establish a carrier-neutral data center in the basement of the county’s Old Main Post Office building on Main Avenue.

The county has yet to spend any of the $3.5 million it designated for the social impacts of the pandemic, but commissioners have agreed to contract the distribution of that money to a community group that is more informed about issues such as behavioral health, child care, food security and reskilling workers.

Commissioners will have final say in approving the spending of that money, but the contractor will help to identify the projects that will have a significant impact in La Plata County. The county plans to submit a proposal request for a contractor later this month.

Holteen said the county has not put a time frame on distributing its social impact money.

“A bit depends on (the contractor’s) recommendations, but the idea is certainly to have it spent by when it has to be,” he said.

In addition to the $10 million commissioners identified specifically for affordable housing, broadband and social impacts, the county had an additional $900,000 to tackle other projects.

The county has devoted $300,000 to replacing the HVAC unit at the Durango-La Plata County Emergency Communications Center and another $275,000 to the Durango Fire Protection District to purchase an ambulance specifically for mental health crises.

Since October 2018, DFPD has been partnering with Mercy Hospital and other health care providers to transport behavioral health patients to facilities with more robust resources on the Front Range or in Grand Junction.

As the number of patients has increased – DFPD transported 151 patients last year, up from 109 in 2020 – the fire department identified the need for a replacement ambulance designed to better meet the needs of its behavioral health team.

“This was a really great opportunity for us and for the community to be able to replace this unit. We did not expect to use it as often as we have,” said Scott Sholes, DFPD’s EMS battalion chief. “... We were already talking about what we were going to do to find funds for that vehicle, and then this (ARPA funding) opportunity came up. It was really fortuitous and it’s something that the community has really proven is valuable.”

The Department of the Treasury released its final guidelines for how local governments could use the money on Jan. 6. It set December 2024 as the deadline for spending the money.

County Manager Chuck Stevens has previously said the commissioners would take their time to deliberately invest the money in projects that “solve problems” and are “generational in nature.”

Though the county has moved quickly to fund projects, Salka said the commissioners think they are meeting their goal of investing in intergenerational projects that make a difference for residents of La Plata County.

Westside Mobile Park, Triangle Trailer Park and both broadband projects were not on the county’s radar, but they clearly matched commissioners’ intended use of ARPA money, he said.

La Plata County has no immediate plans to spend additional ARPA money, but Salka said 2022 will be a significant year for investing in lasting projects.

“This is a golden year of funding coming into La Plata County and throughout our region and our country,” he said. “You’ve got ARPA money, you have infrastructure dollars, you have broadband dollars from the state and other funding coming from the state. I’m excited. We would love to make sure we take care of La Plata County businesses and residents and be impactful on large-scale projects that we couldn’t do before.

“This is the year. This is our moment. Let’s do some good in our county,” he said.

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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