Guest column: Rescue and resilience; we’re all in this together |

Guest column: Rescue and resilience; we’re all in this together

Debbie Bruell

The American Rescue Plan gives us much to celebrate — from the assistance it will provide to individuals and small businesses, to investments like broadband that will be made for public good, to the fact that the plan is supported by a majority of people in both major political parties.

The overwhelming support for the plan is a hopeful sign. Perhaps we all share more than we think with people across the political spectrum. We have the opportunity now to bring that spirit of togetherness to our own county.

Garfield County will be receiving over $11.6 million dollars in funds from the American Rescue Plan, in addition to the funds received by each municipality and the state of Colorado.

We urge the county commissioners to form a community advisory committee — including residents with a diversity of perspectives and expertise — to research options and make recommendations for how these funds should be spent.

The Rescue Plan allows county and municipal governments to use the relief funds in a variety of ways, including to support the county’s response to COVID-19, provide assistance to small businesses and nonprofits, prevent cuts to government services, provide premium pay to essential workers, and make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

A community advisory committee would help to ensure that the commissioners get the input they need to invest the funds in ways that will reach across our entire community and make a long-lasting impact on our county.

For example, including elected officials from the municipalities would enable us to consider regional collaborations that would multiply the impact of our investments. Including essential workers, members of the Latino community, parents of young children, and nonprofit leaders could provide critical information on how to best assist low-wage workers hardest hit by the pandemic. Small-business owners could provide important insights into getting the business community back on its feet. And economic planning experts could provide recommendations for the infrastructure improvements that could most effectively attract new industries and jobs to Garfield County.

A widely representative advisory committee could point to issues that might not otherwise emerge as obvious priorities to address. One such issue that immediately comes to mind is the scarcity of daycare in our county. Additionally, the committee could be well-poised to consider whether it would be better to spread the funds out in a wide variety of ways or invest a more significant sum in a few large projects.

We also want to go one step further and urge the commissioners to use this same model of a community advisory committee or a community task force to embark on a much bigger process: the development a long-term strategic plan for building a strong, resilient economy in Garfield County that works for us all.

Even before the pandemic hit, our economy had been in decline. The downturn of the oil and gas industry across the globe was being felt acutely here on the Western Slope, making it increasingly clear that we cannot continue to rely on the fossil fuel industry to provide the jobs and revenue it has in the past. We need to plan for a diverse, resilient economy for our future. Bringing together a representative group of community members to begin tackling these economic issues is a critical first step.

Including a diversity of voices in these conversations is important not only because everyone deserves to be heard, but also because the most effective solutions are the ones that take our entire community into account. As we’ve learned from the pandemic, challenges faced by one portion of our community negatively impacts us all. Rising infection rates in one group of community members increases the risk of infection for everyone. Loss of income among one group can send ripples across our economy — from property owners who can’t collect rent, to decreased spending at local businesses, to lower sales tax revenues for our municipalities.

This past year of dealing with the pandemic has shown us all the ways that “we all do better when we all do better.” That’s true when we’re trying to slow the spread of a virus and when we’re working to jump start our economy … or decide how best to utilize the $11.6 million in relief funds soon to be flowing our way.

Debbie Bruell of Carbondale serves as chair of the Garfield County Democrats.

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