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City Council looks at future growth and how to get there

by Bill Knowles
TRINIDAD — The Trinidad City Council, during a work session last Monday, took a look at its future and begin considering how they were going to get there. As the possibility of a vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 in the summer and over $300 million in economic relief passed by the state legislature during an emergency session last week, the council began hearing about various programs that could help pave the way out of the woods.

The measures passed during that session will spread a total of about $328 million in COVID-19 relief funds around the state, $228 million in economic stimulus and $100 million for protecting public health.

The $100 million for the state’s public health response will come from the general fund to pay for pandemic expenses.  $60 million will go for housing help. Most of the money will go to rental and mortgage costs through existing state programs, but the bill also creates a new $5 million fund to help undocumented people, who can’t access other government supports, and $1 million for eviction defense.

About $57 million is set aside in grants to small businesses and arts organizations that are affected by capacity limits. The business grants range from $3,500 to $7,000 and are aimed at those that make less than $2.5 million in annual revenue. County governments will accept applications for the money and pay it out by February 12.

About $50 million will go to sales tax relief for bars and restaurants. Restaurants will be allowed to keep up to $2,000 per month in taxes for each of up to five locations. The bill covers four months of taxes: November through February.

About $45 million will go to grants for licensed child-care businesses, which have been pummeled by the pandemic. Ranging from $500 to $35,000, they’re meant to keep facilities in business and help them expand.

$20 million is being invested in a new program to subsidize broadband internet access for students and educators in need.

$5 million will go to grants for food pantries. Another $5 million will go to help people with utility bills. The legislature also passed a law giving cities the power to limit delivery fees from apps like BringMeThat and one that tweaks how insurance companies pay taxes.

What is important to Trinidad
“Only two to three bills will impact businesses and people in Las Animas County,” Trinidad’s lobbyist Debbie Wagner told the city council.  Senate Bill 1001 authorizes up to $20 million in grants to provide school districts with funding for improving and increasing broadband service and other technology needed for internet access. The state education department will award the grants, which must be distributed by Feb. 1. The grants are aimed mostly at K-12 in rural areas.

Another measure passed that is of interest for the Las Animas County and Huerfano County areas is House Bill 1002, which creates two emergency relief grant programs allowing the state to allocate and distribute money to existing childcare providers. The childcare sustainability program will provide grants of $500-$35,000, determined on the capacity of the childcare facility. The state’s Department of Human Services will determine who receives the grant money by Jan. 31, distributing the money by the end of February.

House Bill 1004 was passed, temporarily reducing state sales tax for restaurants, bars, and food trucks, allowing those businesses to keep some of the sales tax that would normally be collected by the state for November, December, January and February. This is seen as an economic stimulus.

The Senate Bills
Senate Bill 1 appropriates about $57.1 million in funding for small businesses, the arts, contact tracing and minority business payments, grants and loans.

Most of the money – $37 million – will go toward direct payments to small businesses in counties that are both subject to and in compliance with public health orders, like Safer at Home Level Red, that restrict their capacities, including restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms and rec centers – which have been hit hardest by capacity restrictions during the pandemic.

Those businesses that are eligible would be able to receive up to $7,000 in direct relief.
This bill includes a late amendment allowing business in cities that are in compliance with local and state health orders to still receive payments even if the county in question is not.
It also includes criteria for the state about adopting the five-star variance program being piloted in Mesa County. Polis said Wednesday that the program would still be optional.

And Senate Bill 2, the last on Wagner’s list, is the Housing And Direct COVID Emergency Assistance Act. It requires the state treasurer to transfer $54 million from the from the general fund to the housing development grant fund for the purpose of providing emergency housing assistance to individuals and households who have experienced financial need due to the COVID-19 pandemic or second order effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money in the funds must be used by June 30, 2021.

It also transfers $5 million to the emergency direct assistance grant fund and is continuously appropriated to the Department of Local Affairs.
Finally, the bill transfers $1 million from the general fund to the eviction legal defense fund. The funds have to be granted to qualifying organizations that have been awarded grants from the fund in the current fiscal year of 2020-2021 by the State Court Administrator.

The economic dig out from the pandemic will take several years to accomplish, according to researchers who say a COVID-19 vaccine will be key to helping Colorado’s economy bounce back from the pandemic. The University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds Business research division released their annual economic outlook on Monday. They project the state will get back 40,500 jobs in 2021, a little more than a 1% increase and still less than one third of the estimated jobs lost in 2020, according to a report filed on CBSN Denver, Tuesday, Dec. 8.