Aspen City hall

Aspen City Council is poised to contribute $200,000 toward an emergency assistance fund administered by Pitkin County that is granting financial support to residents who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Aspen’s economy.

A memo released in advance of Tuesday’s regular city council meeting says that at least half of the 382 requests for assistance Pitkin County has received as of Thursday are from city of Aspen residents.

The COVID-19 outbreak and its associated shutdown of local ski areas “has halted most aspects of Aspen’s hospitality economy,” the memo says. “This has put some residents in immediate financial hardship for the most basic living needs as unemployment rises in the city.”

County commissioners, earlier this week, approved using at least $500,000 for local emergency assistance grants. The city’s $200,000 is “proposed to add a significant boost to the county’s efforts as bridge funding,” the memo says.

County staff are currently reviewing the applications. Based on initial estimates, assistance is projected to be typically between $100 to $800 per month for food, plus additional dollars for housing assistance depending on income and family size, according to the city’s memo.

The city is proposing to fund the $200,000 grant from the general fund.

“While the city’s collections (from taxes and fees) will be muted for 2020 relative to previous forecasts assumed when the 2020 budget was adopted, this additional $200,000 can be supported from current reserves and will be factored into future spending authority decisions for this year,” the memo says.

While these funds may be eligible for reimbursement in the future through state and federal relief packages, there is no guarantee, the memo says.

“Further, reimbursement processes take time, while the need is immediate for the city’s economically vulnerable residents,” the memo says.

For more information on county assistance or to apply, visit pitkincounty.com/182/Human-Services.

Public meetings going virtual

While Tuesday’s regular meeting is going forward, most city work sessions and other nonessential public meetings have been postponed in light of social distancing requirements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Tuesday’s meeting will be unlike any held in this community, with no more than 10 people allowed in council chambers, per the most current public health orders, and public participation offered over the phone. Since there are five members of city council and a handful of city staff who will be present, that limits general public in the room to a very small number. The sister cities room next to council chambers will also be available for up to 10 people to view the meeting.

Anyone in the room exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be asked to leave, according to a notice posted with the upcoming council agenda.

The agenda for Tuesday is light, with a handful of items on the consent calendar and two items set for public hearings that will be continued to a later date.

Anyone from the public wishing to participate in the meeting remotely can submit a request to comment to the city clerk’s office, by phone or by email (970-920-5001 or citizencalls@cityofaspen.com), at least 15 minutes before the meeting starts.

“Such individuals will then be provided a call-in telephone number, which each individual must call no later than five minutes prior to the commencement of the meeting. The individual wishing to comment shall wait on the call-in line to comment until called on by the mayor,” says the notice posted with the agenda.

Mitzi Rapkin, with the city’s communications office, said that the city is working to implement a platform where council members, city staff, applicants and the public can participate in meetings over their computers from their homes. She said the city working to get that up and running before Tuesday’s meeting, but details were not available Friday afternoon.

A notice posted earlier this week said that “non-essential work sessions have been canceled until further notice.” That applied to two work sessions earlier this week. Rapkin said that the city manager’s office and the council are focused at this point on keeping going the most essential services the city provides.

But how does one define a nonessential work session? Coming up on April 6 and 7 are scheduled meetings to discuss the Building IQ energy efficiency program and early childhood education, both of which are top council priorities. For the time being, those are set to go on, Rapkin said.

“As we are able to take up other policy issues we will, but first we need to use the manager’s time and Council’s time to address the immediate emergency,” she wrote in an email.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.