Some local officials see a disparity between recovery act funding for federal agencies and local agencies as a sign the money won't have a large affect on Moffat County and its residents.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Some local officials see a disparity between recovery act funding for federal agencies and local agencies as a sign the money won't have a large affect on Moffat County and its residents.

Officials comment on local recovery act spending

— One thing stands out when Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers looks at what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act paid for locally.

"I was disappointed in the stimulus money because it went to the federal government and its agencies for projects they thought were important and they were already going to do," he said.

Most notably, Mathers referred to a $13.1 million allocation to build a new Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur National Monument.

That single project accounts for the majority of the $20.5 million in recovery funds spent locally.

The amount of recovery funds originally was reported by the state as $20.6 million, but reduction to Moffat County School District's funding lowered the final total.

However, that the Visitor Center is a government building isn't Mathers' only complaint about that particular project.

"I was really upset (that) they included Dinosaur National Monument for us," he said. "That's two hours away across the border in Utah. That's too far for anyone to travel for work. We're not going to see any of that in Moffat County."

To Commissioner Tom Gray, the recovery spending never seemed to be as locally driven as billed.

That about $18.3 million of the total $20.5 million spent in and around Moffat County went to federal agencies seemed to prove his feeling, he added.

Those expenditures include the Dinosaur visitor center, as well as $1.2 million to build solar panels on government buildings in Browns Park, $150,000 for facility repairs in Dinosaur and $3.8 million to study carbon sequestration in the mountains south of Craig.

"In this case, the $20 million was not even down to local decisions, it was for projects they deemed important," Gray said. "There wasn't any input from local leaders as to what the money was spent on."

The county did get $24,006 in recovery funds in the form of a community block grant, which ended up going to the Colorado Workforce Center to pay for services to the unemployed, such as vocational training and Colorado Northwestern Community College.

However, Gray and Mathers said that grant process was something of a problem for county officials, who struggled to find a way to spend the money that met government stipulations.

The county considered turning the money back, at least until the state made it clear Moffat County would take the money or face potential consequences, Gray said.

"The message was very heavily implied: 'If you don't do this, your severance tax funds would be looked at in a different light,'" Gray said.

In effect, Gray said it seemed to him like Gov. Bill Ritter's administration was saying that every county would take recovery funds, and counties that resisted would have a difficult time receiving grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Tied hands

The county is not the only local entity finding it difficult to spend recovery dollars.

The Moffat County School District received the most recovery funds of any local entity at $656,825.

The district's total decreased in the past week - what was supposed to be $225,550 in state budget stabilization funds was reduced to about $108,000.

Similar cuts were made across Colorado, as state officials diverted funds intended for K-12 public schools toward higher education.

The stabilization funds won't have a huge impact on Moffat County, however, as they essentially replace money the school district would have received anyway, district Finance Director Mark Rydberg said.

The new dollars the district received through the recovery act was $548,825 for literacy and math education for elementary students, as well as programs for disabled students.

However, spending the money has been more difficult than getting it, Rydberg said.

"We still haven't received approval, and that's a process that is ongoing," he said. "As of today, I can't tell you what we actually are going to spend this money on."

In addition to needing the government's final approval, the district is limited as to how the money is used.

First of all, recovery funds need to be spent on new programs, Rydberg said.

The government also doesn't want the money to go toward extended costs, such as staff salaries that would extend past the Sept. 30, 2011, spending deadline for all recovery funds.

At the same time, the money can't be spent on capital projects, such as classroom renovations.

All this leaves schools in an awkward situation where they almost have to spend money on staffing, because they can't spend money on much else, Rydberg said.

"It's like, how much staff development can we buy?" he said, adding the money must be spent in two years, and every staff development course takes teachers out of their classrooms.

The system has led some districts across Colorado to fudge their expenses by firing some staff they couldn't afford and rehiring them in different positions, thereby paying for something new.

Rydberg said Moffat County has not done this, but it is an example of how the intentions behind government programs aren't always realized in the real world.

If its plan is approved, Rydberg said Moffat County expects to spend the majority of new recovery funds on staff training and also hire temporary literacy coordinators to bolster reading and writing education.

"This money will be used for direct student contact and improvements and development of our professional staff," Rydberg said. "That being said, it's certainly meant to be temporary, and certainly for the school district it will feel temporary."

Community aid

Other local recipients of the recovery package include the Craig Police Department and Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

The police department received $20,311, which it used to install an electronic file-sharing system with the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

The VNA was awarded $428,573, of which $298,195 will be used to remodel the Craig facility and add exam rooms. The remainder went toward staff funding for the organization, which spans the Yampa Valley.

State officials also plan to disperse $407,924 in Moffat County to bolster unemployment insurance, which is part of the "safety net" funding the government hopes can help people until private sector job growth begins.

Human services aren't the only way government spending can affect a community, however, and one of the main tenets of the recovery bill was to prime the pump for economic development.

Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said he couldn't speak about the human services funding to VNA and the unemployed, but he looked at the same government programs derided by the County Commission as potentially important strides for the local economy.

"I think the reopening of (the Dinosaur visitor center), although it's going to take a little bit of time, will certainly benefit Moffat County in the long run with tourism," Ferree said.

Dinosaur officials have said they have lost $200,000 a year since the old visitor center closed in 2006, all from decreased park entrance fees.

"And the carbon sequestration project, although that's a long time, too, can't do anything but benefit Moffat County and strengthen those industries and make those jobs more secure in the future," Ferree added, referring to the Department of Energy's local clean coal project.

At the same time, Ferree said it has been "very difficult" to apply for recovery funding for municipal projects. The rules didn't come out right away, and it's hard to figure out exactly what is required even now, he said.

Craig City Councilor Terry Carwile said it seems all rural communities have trouble getting the federal government to take notice of their local projects.

He cited unfinished safety repairs on Colorado Highway 13 north of Craig as a prime example.

"For myself, I don't see there was a sufficient amount of (recovery dollars) that was accessible for things that are very critical in our case," Carwile said.

Members of Ritter's economic recovery team understand that concern, communications manager Myung Kim said.

The governor's administration and the state didn't determine how to spend the money, she said, except in the case of funds used to balance the budget, and those mostly went to public education.

"We understand the act is not perfect," Kim said. "It doesn't address everybody's needs, but what is very clear is these dollars are going out to communities."

The recovery also pays a huge amount directly to families, she added, including roughly $900 million in federal income tax credits for 1.8 million Colorado families, extra food stamp funding, meals for seniors and health insurance for the unemployed.

"While (some) may be concerned the money didn't go to specific agencies, the truth is a lot of this money is going to directly to working families," Kim said.

Specifically regarding the Dinosaur visitor center, including it with Northwest Colorado recovery projects was an unintended oversight, she added.

However, to say it would have been funded regardless of the recovery act is false, Kim said, and the project being a few miles across the border doesn't mean it won't have an impact.

"I don't think that changes the fact it's going to be a benefit to your community," she said.

Kim's office also is on-hand to help any organizations apply for competitive recovery grants still available through the federal government.

For more information, call her office at 303-764-7703 or e-mail Brenda Morrison, also with the recovery office, at brenda.miller@state.co.us.

Comments

jeff corriveau 4 years, 6 months ago

See what happens when you did eve a little deeper? CDP finally asked a few questions and found out that the Recover Act nonsense isn't what the pols said it was last week. Congratulations on doing your job and investigating what you were told. There might be a little hope after all.

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John Kinkaid 4 years, 6 months ago

Ah........where to start? This could take awhile.

The "Recovery Act" was largely written by members of the Apollo Alliance. A radical organization with close ties to the Tides Foundation, ACORN, Service Empoyees International Union and George Soros. Members of congress had no idea what they were voting on, because they did not read the bill page by page. A bill that was large, complex and written by lobbyists.

Thank you Daily Press for starting to dig a little deeper.

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Vermillion 4 years, 6 months ago

For two guys, Tom-Tom, who spend their time criticizing the federal government why are they surpised that the feds won't let them make the decisions for federal tax dollars. They always have their hands out wanting someone else's tax dollars.

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