Commission approves CARES Act plan

The San Juan County Commission discussed and approved plans to spend their second allotment of CARES funding at their September 15 meeting. 

The money comes from the federal CARES Act and restrictions exist in how the county can spend the funds received. Funds must be spent in response to the effects of COVID-19 on the community. 

The county received $732,000 in the first allotment, and will receive an additional $732,000 in the second round. A possible third round of money could be issued to the county as well.

The original CARES Act bill requires all the funds be spent by the end of the year. However, San Juan County Administrator Mack McDonald suggested the county hold on to $200,000 of the more than $700,000 from the second round to use during 2021.

McDonald says the county hopes that as Congress works on the next round of legislature relating to the COVID-19 response, they may make some changes to the rules behind the CARES Act fund.

One change the county hopes for is to allow the money to roll over to 2021.  The other is that the federal government allows funds to be used to shore up budget shortfalls for counties and cities.

“We don’t want to spend all the money, but we want to be able to apply this money to next year,” said McDonald.

“So by putting that $200,000 in reserve, we hope that when they change those rules we’ll be able to carry that over – with that final round of CARES funds that we receive – so we can continue to support businesses or the counties budget in general.”

While the county hopes to set the largest chunk aside, McDonald says they have projects they can spend the money on, if needed.

While the county plans to set aside $200,000, the other $532,000 has been slated to be spent, with an additional $150,000 in another round of grants to local businesses. 

In late August, the county distributed grants between $1,000 and $10,000 to qualifying businesses who applied for the funds. In total, $250,000 were given to businesses impacted by COVID-19. 

The second round of CARES funding makes $150,000 available to those businesses who missed the first round of funding.

Additionally, $100,000 of the second round of funding will go to help local artisans. The funds will be used to help support local art festivals and artisans.

“We are working with trading posts and artists to get more money to local artisans that work throughout the county from top to bottom,” said McDonald. 

“If there’s a jewelry maker, basket weaver, blanket maker,” said McDonald. “Those type of artisans who were able to rely on tourism for income, well that tourism is no longer there so they’re also suffering. They might not be full-fledged businesses, but this effort is to try to get more resources back to them to help them out.”

Another $100,000 will be spent to upgrade a water pump in Monument Valley. Goulding’s lodge owns the private water pump, but has allowed public access to the water for years. 

With reports that the private pump has not been able to keep up with the volume of usage, the county plans to help upgrade the system that serves much of the population in Oljaito and even Halchita.

The county contribution will require an agreement with Gouldings that the pump remains public.

An additional $60,000 of CARES funds will be used, with other Public Land Agencies, to promote responsible recreation in the county. 

The standard tourists to the county from Europe and Asia visit after much preparation and research about where and how to visit.

With international travel to the US halted, most tourists to San Juan County are now from local states and the Wasatch Front. 

The county reports the new visitors have brought some challenges, including increased trash and camping on non-traditional camping sites. The $60,000 set aside will be used, along with input from other public land agencies, to educate visitors about leave no trace, trail networks, and how to interact with cultural archeological sites.

An additional $20,000 will help with a backlog of trail maintenance on public lands.

The other $100,000 will pay for ambulance costs and upgrades due to COVID ($50,000), for communications and building preparedness ($30,000), and for a feasibility study to upgrade the public safety building ($22,500).

The commission also approved an agreement to replace an old bridge with a low water crossing on a county road in the Butler Wash area. 

The old car bridge was knocked out a few years ago, and with landowner permission, the county is now replacing the old bridge with a concrete low water crossing across a wash. 

The commission appointed two new members to the planning commission, including Cody Nielson for the open Blanding seat and John Johnston for the open La Sal seat.

San Juan Record

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