Hands in the pie | CraigDailyPress.com

Hands in the pie

Local officials fear state will take bigger piece of energy-impact funds

Collin Smith

— Moffat County Commissioner Saed Tayyara spent five hours Thursday touring County Roads 4 and 7 with Billy Mack, the county’s Road and Bridge director.

Those roads, which run northwest of Craig, need repairs, Tayyara said. The traffic generated from the energy boom is taking its toll.

“I saw the cracks (in the roads) that continue for miles and miles,” Tayyara said. “If we don’t do something soon, we’ll lose those roads, and we can’t afford to lose those roads.”

There’s a hitch in the plan, however.

Tayyara said the county can’t afford the road overlays and the maintenance without help. The Moffat County Commission plans to seek a $1.5 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which distributes severance taxes and mineral lease dollars, two revenues that make up the bulk of its budget.

A severance tax, like a mineral lease, is government revenue generated from natural resources. It taxes natural resources extracted from the ground sold in another state.

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Those dollars – severance taxes and mineral leases – originally were planned to cycle back to energy-impacted areas, which generate the money, Tayyara said.

He worries those areas, specifically Northwest Colorado, could be looking at less of the pie in the near future.

The Legislative Interim Committee on Severance Tax – a group of Colorado congressmen and senators, including Northwest Colorado’s Rep. Al White (R-Dist. 57) and Sen. Jack Taylor (R-Dist. 8) – filed a recommendation to the state Legislature that could make the money more available around the state and would cap money returned to a specific area at $1 million or $5 million per year.

“The entire state continues to look into grabbing money from severance taxes,” Tayyara said. “That money was designed to come back to (energy-impacted) communities because of the problems they face.”

Tayyara, along with Craig City Manager Jim Ferree and Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, attended the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado meeting Nov. 7 in Rifle.

Associated Governments, which represents Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa county officials, unanimously agreed to protest the Interim Committee’s recommendations, according to a letter written by Aron Diaz, Associated Governments executive director.

“It falls critically short in assisting the local governments in mitigating the impacts due to energy production,” Diaz wrote. Associated Governments “will continue to oppose legislation that does not specifically assist in the mitigation of energy impacts until local governments are made whole.”

Craig city officials have never taken a formal position on severance taxes, but do identify with Associated Government’s position, Ferree said.

“We’ve always advocated that money (severance taxes and mineral leases) return to the areas that it comes from,” Ferree said.

The state legislature will look at the recommendations during its first session, which begins in January.

Associated Governments does not want more severance tax and mineral lease dollars to go toward state programs such as higher education, K-12 education or transportation issues not in energy-impacted areas, Diaz wrote.

Moffat County plans to apply for more than $890,000 in DOLA grants next year to replace broken equipment, Tayyara said.

DOLA gave about $400,000 last year in contributions for building projects, including one at the Moffat County Public Safety Center.

City officials plan to meet Monday to discuss applying for about $900,000 in DOLA grants to put a road overlay on First Street, replace water and sewer lines and purchase new vehicles.

Together, the two entities also plan to apply for $200,000 for a new terminal and parking lot at the Moffat County Regional Airport.

“We’re going to try and see if we can benefit from the impact (from energy production),” Tayyara said. “We don’t have the money.”