Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact Yuma County, greatly affecting the focus of staff and the direction that the Board of Supervisors took in 2021.
Yuma County was one of the hardest hit areas in the nation during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Yuma County Public Health Services District team quickly mobilized to address the challenge and ensure equitable access to both testing opportunities and COVID-19 vaccines,” County Administrator Susan Thorpe said.
Activities included engaging and supporting a diverse, multi-partner coalition that included binational partners, conducting door-to-door outreach campaigns, assisting with vaccine registration and developing bilingual educational material including radio and television and social media campaigns.
The district partnered with church groups, social service agencies, schools and the Mexican Consulate to host focus groups and community education events “to answer questions and dispel misinformation and boost vaccine confidence,” Thorpe said.
The district also hosted pop up testing and mobile vaccination clinics as early as 4 a.m. and during evening hours and weekends “to ensure location and work schedules were not a barrier to access,” she noted.
The supervisors approved the Yuma County Small Business Rent and Mortgage Relief Grant Fund and Remote Learning Assistance programs. The Small Business Rent and Mortgage Relief Grant Fund authorized the distribution of up to $200,000 for small businesses located in the unincorporated areas of the county that had been mandated to pause operations due to Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order.
The Remote Learning Assistance Program authorized up to $250,000 to help students learning remotely throughout the county have reliable internet connections.
BUILDING A BROADBAND BACKBONE
The supervisors named the development of a Yuma County Broadband Backbone as its top priority for federal American Rescue Plan Act funds received by the county.
“The goal of the project is to enable access to high-speed, reliable and affordable internet service for every city, every area and every farm across the county to the greatest extent possible,” Thorpe explained.
“The project will use the latest fiber optic technology to build a backbone delivery system to reach most areas of the county, with the fastest speeds available today,” she added.
Thorpe pointed out that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the county had poor internet service. The pandemic exacerbated and further put a spotlight on the situation.
“Legacy providers have not sufficiently upgraded existing infrastructure,” she previously said. “People across Yuma County became painfully aware of the serious lack of adequate internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for schoolchildren in rural areas, individuals working from home, and people requiring remote healthcare. Agricultural technology development and implementation was hindered by lack of broadband access in agricultural areas.”
Yuma County entered into contract negotiations with ALLO Communications for the design and build of a county-owned broadband middle-mile fiber backbone network. The Nebraska-based company was the vendor originally recommended by the committee tasked with evaluating the submitted proposals.
After putting off the decision several times to address objections from other vendors, the supervisors picked ALLO, with a 3-2 split vote, to build 181 miles of the countywide broadband network. The company, in its proposal, estimated the cost at $37.5 million. The county has committed $20 million, about half of its ARPA total funding toward the project.
In addition, Yuma County and ALLO will seek state and federal grants to help fund the project. The county will also request that local municipalities commit funding, using a portion of their ARPA funds or other funds.
ADDITIONAL USE OF PANDEMIC RELIEF FUNDS
Yuma County netted an allocation of $41.5 million and received the first half of the allocation in June. The second half is expected in June 2022.
In addition to the broadband backbone project, the supervisors approved the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the following projects:
• Somerton Water Line Extension: This funding assists in the extension of a water line to the 84-unit Valley Vista Apartments in Somerton, part of the Yuma County Housing Department.
• Tacna Water System construction: This multi-million dollar project will remove and replace more than 10,000 linear feet of aging and low-capacity pipe and finance the construction of a new groundwater well, water treatment facility and water storage tank in Tacna. ARPA funding will augment existing grant funds as needed.
• GYPA Industrial Park buildout: This funding will facilitate the buildout of water and sewer infrastructure in the Greater Yuma Port Authority industrial park in San Luis.
• Orange Grove/Rancho Mesa Verde Sewer System: This funding is to assist in the design and construction of a sewer system for the Orange Grove and Rancho Mesa Verde neighborhoods in Yuma County.
• Replacement Ambulance for Tri-Valley Ambulance, a nonprofit organization, in East County
• Support for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program
• PM 10 Mitigation Projects
– University of Arizona Wastewater Lab
EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Yuma County announced its partnership with the Western Arizona Council of Governments to launch a new Emergency Rental Assistance Program to provide financial assistance and housing stability to residents.
Funding is available for rent and utility relief for renters and landlords, including direct payments for rent, rental arrears, utilities, utility arrears and other expenses related to housing stability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
NEW ADMINISTRATION BUILDING
The supervisors approved the development of a new County Administration Building at 197 S. Main St. in downtown Yuma. The county engaged firms to provide project management services and architectural services for the project.
The county plans to demolish the existing building as well as the existing facilities at 192 Maiden St. and 185 S. Main St. to make way for the new administration building.
The departments located at 197 S. Main St. have or will be temporarily relocating during construction. The Treasurer’s Office already relocated to a temporary space on 4th Avenue with the Assessor’s Office to follow in January.
The county purchased the Hoppstetter building at 102 S. Main St. to facilitate the temporary relocation of the Recorder and Elections Services offices while the new building is constructed.
Due to the receipt of unanticipated federal funds related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yuma County budget for fiscal year 2021-22 was unusual.
“These federal funds inflated the total amount of funds in the budget not just for Yuma County, but for its neighboring municipalities as well,” Thorpe said.
For example, she noted, Yuma County’s budget increased to $464 million from the previous year’s budget of $289 million, and the City of Yuma’s FY 2021-22 budget increased to $522 million from its previous year $249 million budget.
REDISTRICTING ADVISORY COMMISSION
Due to the 2020 Census, Yuma County undertook the redistricting process for supervisorial and community college districts. The decennial redistricting process began with formation of the Redistricting Advisory Commission by the supervisors.
The commission sponsored two virtual public education sessions in October, to explain the redistricting process, the 2020 Census data for the county and how community members can be involved in redistricting locally.
The commission will conclude its work and recommend new district maps to the board early next year.
COVID EARLY WARNING SEWAGE TESTING PROJECT
Yuma County partnered with the University of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Health Services to collect and test sewage samples twice per week in locations across the county for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The U of A’s Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture analyzes the samples at its Yuma lab, and shares data with public health officials.
Thorpe looks forward to the new year and expects good things for Yuma County. “Yuma County is in a strong position to continue to serve our communities with commitment and innovation,” she said.
“I am excited to see the positive progress we will make in 2022. In particular, the county looks forward to working with our partners on several important regional projects, including countywide broadband access, the fairgrounds relocation and others,” she added.