Otero County commissioners continued their weekly public meetings by teleconference on Monday in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home measures. Subjects discussed included a regional debris management plan, Las Animas County has joined Otero Partners Incorporated, micro loans and business relief funding, and another case of coronavirus has cropped up in Otero County.
Economic Development Coordinator Danelle Berg presented on Monday an Intergovernmental Agreement Otero Partners Inc. that would include Las Animas County as a member of the organization, and would clarify a micro loan policy it has that would allow officers to approve micro loans that could assist entities in times of economic stress, such as the situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Otero Partners Inc. is a county loan program that is designed to increase employment in the region.
Micro loans can help a business with funding to prevent going under, Berg said. One can receive the loans from three OPI officers to have a quick micro loan turnaround time frame. The intergovernmental agreement needs to be approved by eight members to be approved: Otero and Bent County commissioners, and the towns and cities of La Junta, Swink, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Fowler, and Cheraw.
"In early 2000s OPI was 'born,' and the IGA was made between Otero and the six counties and what would be Las Animas County. But Las Animas County didn't join OPI," Berg said on Monday. "This IGA (intergovernmental agreement) will include Las Animas County as a member of OPI; and to clarify a micro loan policy the organization has, that allows the secretary (and officers) to approve micro loans."
Berg described the micro loans as possibly a "small loan to get you by" as one waits for Payroll Protection Program funds to become available. Berg said the Otero Partners micro loans application could be made available on the county website at oterogov.com.
"It does take a little bit of time to get all the paperwork done but it's something that we'd like to offer across the county to all businesses from Fowler to Cheraw," said Berg.
The loan amount caps at $10,000, Berg said, with a minimum loan amount of $1,000. Businesses must be in existence for at least two years, employ a maximum of 10 people and possess collateral in some form. The interest rate on the loan can be zero, Berg added.
On the subject of economic development, Berg also said she is hoping to get people registered with the Small Business Development Center before funding becomes available so that they can be "first in line" to receive funds in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Small Business Administration was appointed funds from the CARES Act in response to the pandemic, and the organization ran out of stimulus funding from that legislation last week by April 15.
The Payroll Protection Program, provided by the small business organization, is among the programs starved by depleted emergency stimulus funds.
"Payroll Protection Plan, if you have an app in process, then it will save your place in line," said Berg. "But if you don't, then yes, you'll have to start from scratch."
County emergency manager Danny Chavez spoke about a new regional emergency debris management plan during the remote meeting Monday afternoon.
"I think our region's a head of the game a little bit as far as getting everybody on board with the same plan, that works, for everybody in our region," Chavez told commissioners.
The plan is concerned with the logistics of managing large amounts of debris in the event of a disaster, such as a major flood or tornado. A regional plan such as this one had not been officially implemented before, Chavez said, and a big part of getting this one rolling for Otero County and the surrounding region is to be eligible for FEMA relief funds in the event of a disaster.
The plan has been approved by the state and by FEMA, Chavez said.
Chavez referenced the Otero flood of 1999, which resulted in over $1 million in disaster relief funds allocated to residents and businesses of the area, according to a report released by FEMA dated June 25, 1999. Chavez said the debris management plan discussed Monday would assist in receiving FEMA reimbursement in the wake of such a disaster.
Off the topic of the debris management plan, Chavez said that county landfill services are so far unaffected by the pandemic or social distancing measures. He noted the landfill has actually seen a slight increase in traffic, "probably from people just wanting to get out of the house a bit."
The county is working on revegetation efforts at one landfill site, utilizing what Chavez called alternative daily care, a process of covering a landfill to hinder odors, prevent blowing of trash and to keep scavenging pests out of the landfill. The county uses a spray to perform the alternative daily care.
"We have five and 3/4 inches on a daily basis saving space in the landfill, so all our landfills will last a lot longer," said Goodwin. "The longer we can make these last, the better off we are."
Chavez said using that method, the county will save space and money in the long run in regard to operating the landfill.
There has been another lab confirmed case of COVID-19 in Otero County, county health director Rick Ritter said on Monday, bringing to area's total count (including Crowley County) to nine cases, with one deceased.
The individual was "quarantined prior to receiving positive test results. Patient placed into isolation after positive result," said Ritter.
The patient is in their 50s and had had close content with another person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and that individual is recovering.
Statewide as of April 18, said Ritter, there are 9,730 cases; 1,813 hospitalized; 56 affected counties; 46,000 tested; 422 deaths; and 111 outbreaks at longterm care and assisted living facilities.
"The state is to start tracking hospital releases," said Goodwin.
In addition, a new "symptom tracker" where people can self-report their symptoms is available on Otero County's website at oterogov.com.
Before the meeting adjourned, Commissioner John Hostetler encouraged county residents to take the census.