County mulls then pulls funding for HTA
Grand County commissioners are gearing up for the home stretch of 2019 budget planning this month, leaving some parties unhappy with their fiscal decisions, namely the Headwaters Trails Alliance.
In early October, on the fourth day of budget hearings, the Grand County Board of Commissioners directed staff to remove a $40,000 line item pertaining to administrative costs for Headwaters Trails Alliance, the local nonprofit that oversees and maintains Grand County’s trail systems. The county has provided funding assistance for the Alliance at varying levels over the past several years and through various means, though the $40,000 was not previously part of annual county budgets.
County officials noted that the organization typically receives somewhere between $26,000 and $46,500 annually from the county. The Alliance received roughly $46,500 in funding from the county in 2014 and 2015, though that number was down to $30,000 in 2016. A significant portion of the funds Headwaters Trails Alliance receives from the county are dispersed through block grants administered by the Grand Foundation. In 2018, the Alliance received $22,500 in block grant funding.
Commissioners justified their decision to remove the $40,000 funding stream by pointing to the funds available to the Alliance through the Open Lands Rivers and Trails Fund, created after Grand County voters approved Ballot Measure 1A in 2016. That measure imposed an additional .3 percent sales tax across all of Grand County.
County officials expect 1A to produce somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million in additional revenue annually. Though, the county has set a 15 percent cap on the percentage of 1A revenue that can be used for hiking and biking trail maintenance. If 1A revenue projections prove accurate that would leave roughly $150,000 to $225,000 in trail maintenance funding.
Those monies are dispersed through a grant funding application process overseen by the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Advisory Committee, which is a group of nine Grand County citizens who decide where 1A funds will be granted.
Upon removing the $40,000 line item, county commissioners suggested that Headwaters Trails Alliance should, instead, include administrative costs in their grant applications for 1A funds, allowing that up to 30 percent of the grant funding received could be earmarked for administrative fees.
“They should be able to get a healthy amount of their (administrative costs) covered through up to 25 or 30 percent of project costs,” Grand County Commission Rich Cimino said during the Oct. 4 meeting. “I don’t think there is any legal issue if we saw projects that included 30 percent admin.”
For their part, officials from Headwaters Trails Alliance felt the commissioner’s justification for removing the $40,000 line item was inaccurate.
“Unfortunately, it appears the commissioners oversimplified this whole process,” said Meara McQuain, executive director of Headwaters Trails Alliance. “It was based on the assumption that HTA is guaranteed to get $225,000 in funding annually and that we can just put a 30 percent admin cost on every project.”
McQuain noted that Headwaters Trails Alliance is not the only entity that applies for 1A funding. The most recent round grant applications included 14 for trail projects from six different entities.
McQuain said there are several other entities in the county that would also be eligible to apply for trail-related grant funds that did not in the most recent round of applications.
“I anticipate there will be significant applications in the future coming forward,” she said.
McQuain also pushed back on the notion that the trails alliance could include 30 percent in administrative costs on their grant applications.
According to McQuain, the Alliance typically sees administration costs of around 10 percent on a given project.
“We want to operate with the utmost integrity in seeking public dollars to fund these projects,” McQuain said. “To build in 30 percent (administrative costs) when we can’t justify it — it doesn’t feel like we are doing our due diligence and spending these funds honestly and wisely.”
McQuain said she was also dismayed by what she claimed was a lack of communication from the county regarding the decision to remove the $40,000 in funding.
“We kind of feel like we got the rug pulled out from under us,” she said. “No one notified us. If I hadn’t been tipped off I wouldn’t have applied for a block grant from the county that is due in two days.”
County officials say they do not expect to approve the final 2019 budget until early December.
Commissioners will meet again Nov. 5 for a rebuttal hearing, during which time affected parties, county departments and members of the public can request changes in budget allotments.
Following the rebuttal hearing, the commissioners will hold another meeting, on Nov. 13, where they are expected to adopt a final budget determination, which would be filed with the state and published as the projected annual budget. That could potentially occur Dec. 4.
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