Vail discusses plans to spend $1.1M in COVID-19 relief funds from American Rescue Plan
The town received some guidance but is waiting for firmer details to make any commitments
Three months after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into legislation, the town of Vail is still uncertain about how exactly to spend the $1.1 million in funds allocated by the COVID-19 bill.
While the town has received some guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury on eligible expenses, nothing has been finalized, both federally and locally. This is due to the constantly evolving nature of the pandemic, especially since March 11 when the bill was signed into law.
“Some of the eligible expenses are going to look a little bit backwards looking,” said Kathleen Halloran, director of finance for the town of Vail, at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. “I think due to the fact that the legislation took a little while to get done, and then since it’s been passed, over the last few months, we’ve really moved forward in time. What we’re hoping for, since this guidance is not final, that with feedback from other municipalities and cities and counties, that the federal government may alter or expand eligibility.”
Eagle County as a whole received $11 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan, with local municipalities also receiving funding. In addition to Vail’s $1.1 million, Avon will receive $1.3 million, Eagle will receive $1.5 million, Gypsum $1.58 million and Minturn $250,000.
The funds will be distributed over the course of two years and will be available to use until Dec. 31, 2024. This means in June 2021, the town of Vail will receive its first payment from the bill of $585,000, with the remainder coming in June 2022. All funds must be used to offset direct impacts of COVID-19, with an emphasis on addressing inequities for disadvantaged populations or geographic areas.
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According to the Halloran, the non-finalized guidance the town received from the U.S. Treasury outlines the following as eligible expenses:
- To respond to the public health emergency, something that Halloran noted was similar to what the town could cover with the funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act or CARES Act.
- To respond to the negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small business, nonprofits or aid to heavily impacted industries like tourism and hospitality. This option was “a nice option to consider,” Halloran said.
- To respond to workers performing essential work during the public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers. In Vail, Halloran noted that this would include grocery store and restaurant workers, transit staff, public health and safety staff as well as child care, educators and school staff.
- To replace revenue lost from COVID-19. Halloran called this the “most flexible category.” She did note that the category requires municipalities to look across all revenue streams. As such, Vail might have difficulty qualifying as, even though it saw a huge hit to sales tax, it also had an increase in revenue from real estate transactions.
- The fifth category — which is meant for investments in water, sewer and broadband — the town of Vail does not qualify for.
Prior to the Tuesday Town Council meeting, Halloran and other town staff met with the Vail Economic Advisory Committee to get the members’ thoughts on how best to spend the money.
“Some of feedback from EAC included the fact that local businesses are really struggling to hire right now, and the biggest reason is lack of housing and child care,” Halloran said.
She added that other considerations included recruiting efforts, such as housing vouchers and incentives for employees to stay in Vail, providing financial support in the way of child care and transit vouchers to residents, pooling funds with other local municipalities to address these hiring challenges and more.
As the guidance has yet to be finalized, the Vail Town Council had some discussions around allocation of funds but also, ultimately, decided that any firm decisions should wait to be made. This was both to wait for final guidance from the federal government and to see how the effects of the pandemic manifest itself over the next few months.
“The VEAC meeting was very helpful, but it also left us without clear certainty on what should be done with the funds,” council member Brian Stockmar said. “We do have time. Let’s really analyze the needs and the direction we want to send these funds and not just throw them out willy-nilly because we do have the time.”
There was some consensus, however, that the funds should go back toward residents of Vail.
“I do want to see this money, as much as we can, due to the regulation of it, go to the citizens, the community, the people that really got us to where we are today in the whole COVID pandemic,” Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said. “Whether that’s through rent relief, whether that’s through incentives for employers, I’d like to see this money directly impact the citizens of the town of Vail.”