DOLA awards half of what was requested

As the county tightens its purse strings in anticipation of a $600,000 spending deficit, officials ponder the future availability of state assistance.

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs long has provided grants to local governments and other public institutions through its Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund. Although money still flows from the state to provide relief to local communities, recent decisions may portend future hardships.

About $1.4 million was awarded to three local entities that applied for a total of $2.9 million from DOLA in September - Moffat County, Moffat County School District and Colorado Northwestern Community College.

County Commissioner Tom Gray said he is not upset by the state agency's decision regarding the county's request, which awarded $250,000 of $652,000.

Because of DOLA's decision, the Road and Bridge Department will have to cut some new equipment purchases, such as a motor grader and other vehicles for road maintenance.

Linda DeRose, Road and Bridge manager, said her department shouldn't be affected too harshly. DOLA awarded grants for new equipment in each of the past three to four years, and the equipment stable is in pretty good shape.

Gray said the state's decision is just a sign of the times, and there's no use feeling spurned.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm a realist," Gray said. "Times are tough, and counties have a lot of needs. They're going to be looking anywhere they can for a little help. It's just the way it is."

Indeed, DOLA did see a sharp increase in requests this year, said Linda Rice, DOLA public information officer.

Although available grant funding has remained pretty constant through the years - about $20 million - the amount of requested dollars went from the usual $22 million to $54 million in 2008.

Rice attributed the rise to the fact that DOLA now allows applicants to seek grants of $2 million or more at one time. She deemed this year's difference in requests to available money "substantial."

As such, she added, "a majority" of the 44 grant applications received were denied. That list includes a $2 million request from the Roaring Fork School District to help build affordable housing in Carbondale for teachers.

Although local entities did not get all they asked for, they were awarded partial funding.

The college applied for $1.8 million to help construct a new career and technical building at the burgeoning Craig campus, but received $1 million. CNCC President John Boyd said the result wasn't troubling, however, and in fact he was "very grateful" for what the state gave.

Officials project the building to cost about $3.7 million, with the college funding the rest through other means, Boyd said. He added he hopes crews will start construction by summer.

The School District has a little more to consider, Finance Director Mark Rydberg said.

It applied for $480,000 to help upgrade the middle school's auditorium and enlarge its auxiliary gym, and planned to match $285,000. However, DOLA awarded $100,000, about one-fifth of the request.

Rydberg said he wasn't sure what the School Board would do, but the scope of the projects "certainly" would have to be reduced.

Rice said DOLA has not adopted stricter criteria for awarding grants, but as long as requests remain high, there will be more competition for dollars.

County Commissioner Audrey Danner said local officials will have to be aware of this as they apply for future funding.

"These are important dollars for the county and, indeed, every group that applies for them," she said.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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