American Rescue funds couldn’t come at better time for Garfield County
Federal funds aimed at helping local governments recover from the negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic are also providing a bridge for Garfield County to weather the regional downturn in the oil and gas industry.
Garfield County commissioners decided Tuesday to defer $5 million of the $5.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars received by the county this year to help balance the 2022 budget.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who sits on the county’s budget committee, noted roughly $5 million in lost property tax revenue annually in recent years due to the decline in new natural gas drilling and production.
The county has relied on healthy reserve funds to balance the budget during that time, but that can only go on so long, Jankovsky said.
“It’s to the point where we can’t continue to have a balanced operating budget. So, to me, this (federal COVID-19 relief funds) has helped our budget situation,” he said.
A total of $11.6 million in anticipated ARPA relief funds over the next two years is well-timed for the county.
“We felt that ‘22 would be the bottom (of the revenue downturn), and then we would start to climb back up,” Jankovsky said.
Commissioners opted to allocate $833,073 of this year’s ARPA disbursement to recoup costs associated with the public health response and economic impacts of COVID-19.
The remaining $5 million will go to do the same next year, but with a broader intent.
Eligible uses for ARPA dollars include direct COVID-19 emergency response, as well as providing premium pay for workers, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, and revenue loss.
While the costs of the pandemic to Garfield County have been extensive — calculated at over $3 million in 2020 alone, according to county Finance Director Theresa Wagenman — that latter category can help with the county’s general budget shortfall, she said.
Some agencies that come under the county budget, including the 9th District Attorney’s Office and state-supported criminal justice services, saw some of the most significant impacts, Wagenman said.
District Attorney Jeff Cheney has already requested a pay increase for his staff attorneys and investigators and the addition of two new prosecutors to deal with a growing caseload. Part of that has been driven by the backlog in cases caused by the courts shutdowns and limitations during the pandemic.
In regard to the 2022 budget planning, Jankovsky advised his fellow commissioners that he will be asking for another $1 million in cuts to help give county employees a full 5% cost of living wage increase.
The current draft budget includes a 2.5% merit increase, but, “our employees need at least 5% just to keep up with inflation,” he said.
Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin offered that, while gracious for the federal assistance to help the county’s situation, they worry about the long-term inflationary impacts on a state and national level.
“Many people in our state Legislature and (Congress) are spending money like it’s going out of style,” Samson said. “I don’t think that’s good for our nation, and I don’t think it’s good for our county, either.”
Martin expressed his ongoing concerns about the strings that come attached to federal dollars, and devaluation of the U.S. dollar.
“It’s also a precursor to more taxes to pay for everything,” he said.
Jankovsky expressed similar concerns, but said it’s important to take advantage of both state and federal dollars when they are made available.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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