Initial findings from Boulder County’s wide-reaching American Rescue Plan, or ARPA, funding survey were revealed in a public meeting of the county commissioners on Nov. 10.
Boulder County Commissioners and outreach specialists brought the survey to communities throughout the county — particularly the Latinx and mountain communities — to determine how best to spend Boulder County’s $63.3 million in ARPA funds. A total of 1,543 people responded to the survey throughout the county, with the largest number of responses coming from Longmont.
The public meeting addressed some of the broad issues including access to affordable housing, ongoing economic impacts from COVID and addressing the digital divide that limits community access to available resources.
“The initial findings are important and the commissioners’ openness to go directly to residents of our community, to understand and hear from them what they think our highest and greatest needs are is meaningful in terms of how government and residents engage,” said Tatiana Hernandez, executive director of the Community Foundation Boulder County.
The initial outreach was met with some distrust from members of the community that held concerns on whether or not their opinion mattered or had any effect, according to a broad spectrum of community members. Hernandez felt that in order to regain trust from residents of the county, outreach and follow-through were the keys to securing future community engagement.
Of note, 27% of respondents in the survey indicated that negative economic impacts were the biggest challenge during COVID — pandemic-related job losses causing households to fall behind on rent or mortgage payments, increase in property taxes and housing costs leaving families unable to meet other basic needs.
Another struggle highlighted during the meeting were the challenges that small businesses and nonprofit organizations face in providing competitive salaries to keep and maintain a workforce in the face of larger companies. Claire Levy, commissioner, suggested small, targeted actions could have a long-term impact if the county were to invest some of the funds in those businesses and organizations.
Boulder County has until 2024 to spend the $63.3 million and the commissioners’ office expressed interest in using the funds to build sustainable long-term projects to increase equity in the communities, rather than using short term patches. Levy and Matt Jones, commissioner, both highlighted the need to leverage other funding opportunities to stretch each dollar efficiently and streamline access to existing programs, assistance for COVID relief, financial aid and housing.
A full report of the findings will be made available to the public on Nov. 18 through Boulder County’s ARPA website. According to Hernandez, the next step will be to identify narrower focus areas and bring more engagement to the community.
“Hopefully these findings will begin to help us, as a community, focus on how to best use ARPA funding, but as an important byproduct, I hope it deepens residents' sense of ownership and engagement with their local government,” Hernandez said.