Montrose, CO — City Councilors and staff met online for a virtual work session Monday, April 13, to receive updates about ongoing city operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilors Roy Anderson, Dave Bowman, Barbara Bynum, Judy Ann Files and Doug Glaspell met for about 49 minutes. Newly elected councilor Dave Frank also attended. The following is a summary of the primary topics discussed during the meeting.
ONGOING CITY OPERATIONS DURING COVID-19
City Manager Bill Bell told councilors the city is continuing to pass along information from community partners throughout Montrose, the state health department and the governors’ office regarding all areas of social services — from food delivery to essential public services like trash and recycling, to business and employment news.
In an effort to be more frugal with city finances, Bell reported that the city would not be filling all seasonal positions budgeted for 2020, resulting in a $100,000 to $120,000 cost reduction. The decision will, however, affect the city’s maintenance operations with regard to city parks. The city will also reduce watering and mowing schedules to scale back park maintenance work for the foreseeable future.
The city will purchase lawn care equipment for individual workers so they can operate remotely to prevent the sharing of equipment with other parks staff.
"Our goal is to reduce our maintenance to a level that saves us a little bit of money, protects our employees, allowing them to work individually, but not reducing our maintenance enough that it causes us long-term problems," Bell said. "Once you lose a park system or a golf course, for example, once the turf goes downhill too far, you can’t get it back unless you spend a lot of money."
Bell also said city staff are following the governor’s orders requiring all staff members to wear protective face masks when out working in public.
City street and utility workers have been working alongside parks staff to help maintain city parks and greenways as the spring growing season is underway.
Bell reported that golf carts are prohibited on area golf courses to help maintain social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19. Use at the Black Canyon Golf Course has been steady as people venture outside to enjoy the sunshine and get some exercise.
Bell said he was proud that so many staff members have changed their hours, job descriptions, and responsibilities to serve the public during the pandemic.
"It’s been really stressful on our staff," Bell said. "But at the same time, a really rewarding experience to see everyone come together and be able to provide the necessary services to the community."
ONGOING CITY EMERGENCY RESPONSE
City Police Chief Blaine Hall reported to the council that Montrose County has confirmed 54 positive cases of COVID-19 and four deaths in the community as a result of the virus.
As of now, Hall said, the Montrose community is second behind Gunnison County in terms of most confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Western Slope of Colorado.
Hall said local residents need to be wearing masks when outside in public to help flatten the infection curve.
Hall reported that Police Department officers are ramping up their use of personal protective equipment to keep up with officer safety. The department is keeping up with calls for service, although officers are being subjected to a lot of stress as a result of precautions related to COVID-19.
Hall said the department has mandated the use of facemasks by PD personnel to limit exposure.
"I think we had a little false sense of security that when we come inside the Police Department, we’re safe," Hall said.
That’s not the case, Hall said, because officers are dealing with individuals in the community who have tested positive for COVID-19. Hall said the department has services to help officers deal with stress and the rigors of working during the pandemic.
"Overall I think things are good and our department is really responding well," Hall said.
ONGOING CITY BUSINESS RELIEF PROGRAM
Earlier this month the council approved a number of initiatives to aid small businesses that have been forced to close or have suffered substantial economic hardship as a result of COVID-19.
The council agreed to defer all small business sales tax remittance for a 90-day period and move funds budgeted for tourism promotion to help local businesses market and advertise their services.
In addition, the city created a $300,000 fund dedicated to providing small businesses with up to $5,000 zero-percent loans with no repayment for at least 12 months.
During Monday’s work session, Chelsea Rosty, the city’s director of business innovation and tourism, reported that the city has approved three loans to small businesses since last week and have another three to six business loans under consideration this week.
Small businesses can apply for funds to pay their fixed debt, employees, rent, and other necessary monthly expenses to make sure they can stay viable and reopen after the crisis is over. The application process and tracking of these loans will be a joint effort between the City of Montrose and Region 10.
Under the direction of the City Council and the City Manager’s Office, the city’s Office of Business and Tourism, OBT, is reallocating budgeted tourism and marketing funds to advertise on behalf of small businesses that are still open in Montrose over the next several months. By using this service, businesses have the option to save their normal advertising dollars and put that money to use for other things like payroll, rent, and inventory to keep them operational through the pandemic.
The initiative will be a cooperative marketing effort involving teams of three businesses that apply for a quick-turnaround marketing grant and then advertise together. The city, through OBT, will provide up to $1,000 per qualified business group. Marketing can be in the form of radio, print, video, social media, or a combination thereof.
Rosty said the city has approved six marketing grants since last week.
Rosty reported she has been in contact with local restaurants, coffee shops, and other service-related businesses to see how they are doing during the mandated closures.
"The general sentiment is that they are making it," Rosty said. "That the lights are staying on, that they are able to employ a few people. Some of them (business owners) are working themselves and not taking a salary. But they are able to keep the doors open."
Rosty said the city’s efforts to encourage residents to support local restaurants through take out and the Friday Night Dine Out promotion has helped them remain open.
Rosty said once a business submits a loan application, the review process can take a couple of days, depending on whether all the necessary loan paperwork is complete. If the loan application is complete and the review committee approves the funds, the city is able to issue checks each Thursday.
GENERAL CITY COUNCIL AND STAFF DISCUSSION
Public Works Manager Jim Scheid said the city’s Public Works Department is keeping up with critical areas of operations while navigating workplace restrictions due to COVID-19. Public Works is assisting other departments, including streets and parks, to help maintain key infrastructure and parks.
Scheid said street workers are out crack-sealing roads, fixing potholes, and repairing streets, although crew sizes have been reduced to help with worker safety. Critical roadways are being addressed.
City Engineer Scott Murphy reported that the bridge over Dry Cedar Creek on 6530 Road reopened Monday and the project was completed under budget.
Asphalt work on East Miami Road will be completed in the coming days following extensive work to replace a waterline. This project also came in “significantly under budget,” according to Murphy.
Murphy reported that paving will commence next week on Riverbottom Drive to complete a wider entrance to Riverbottom Park. Last fall contractors working for the city began reconstructing the roadway including a waterline extension, piping of the existing stormwater and irrigation ditch, widening of the roadway to include on-street parking in each direction, the addition of sidewalks down both sides of the street, and a reconfiguration of the intersection at Rio-Grande Avenue.
The work is in coordination with the Montrose Recreation District’s renovation of Holly Park, situated on the north side of Riverbottom Drive.
Both projects are being made possible, in part, by a $500,000 Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant awarded to the city and Recreation District.
Murphy said the roadway should be opened by the end of April.
Utilities Manager David Bries reported that the city continues to provide water and sewer service to residents throughout the city. Utility infrastructure upgrades and maintenance projects completed in recent years have helped the city’s utility systems to function normally during the pandemic.
Monday’s work session was Judy Ann Files’ last as a city councilor. Dave Frank, elected April 7, will take over her seat following his swearing-in on April 21.
The council will hold its annual training retreat this week. The retreat, normally held at the Montrose Pavilion, will instead be held online through the Zoom platform.
All regular City Council meetings are open to the public and are held at 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. All City Council meetings are recorded and made available online via on the city’s website and cable channels 191 for Charter subscribers and 970 for Elevate subscribers. Replays of council meetings are also broadcast at 6 p.m. on the same channels on days that council is not in session.
In addition, each regular meeting is archived on the City of Montrose’s YouTube channel.
Work sessions are also open to the public and are usually held on the first and third Mondays of each month at 10 a.m. These meetings give councilors the opportunity to hear background information, ask questions, and have informal discussions about city policies and current issues before taking formal action through a public vote during regular council meetings.
Replays of work sessions are aired nightly following replays of the City Council’s regular meetings. Work sessions are also archived on the City of Montrose’s YouTube channel.
Residents can watch all regular City Council meetings and work sessions live through the city’s website at CityOfMontrose.org/Video.
For more city news visit CityOfMontrose.org.