The Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recently heard updates from the Grand Foundation, the Office of Economic Development, and an annual presentation from the Middle Park Conservation District.
COUNTY BLOCK GRANTS REVIEWED
The Board welcomed Megan Ledin, Executive Director, and Stacy Starr, Grants Coordinator, from the Grand Foundation to discuss the County’s donor-advised fund, whose management was turned over to the Grand Foundation for the first time in 2017. Ledin and Starr presented on the 2017 grant cycle, reviewed applications and awards, and sought direction from the Board for the 2018 funding year.
Ledin indicated that the 2017 fund was $225,000, an amount that represented a 25 percent cut from the year before, reflecting a general restriction enforced across the County budget. She further reviewed that the BOCC had given a very specific mission in 2017, to focus on the areas of health and human services, with some monies going toward education organizations. She said that it was that direction and the 25 percent budget cut that informed their granting decisions.
All grant applications were reviewed by a committee composed of Grand Foundation board and staff, and while they were used as resources, any committee member who served with any applicant organizations were asked to abstain from that funding vote. They examined how well the applicant organizations or projects fit within the intention areas, and looked at overall fiscal strength, including the ratio of restricted to unrestricted funds within each entity.
Starr presented a spreadsheet that showed 22 applicants, requesting a total of $458,750 in support. The full $225,000 was granted, with $212,500 going to health and human services organizations or programs, like Mountain Family Center, Mind Springs Health, and Advocates for a Violent-free Community; and $12,500 to education-focused entities, such as the Grand County Historical Association.
As this was the first year that the block-grant was managed outside of the BOCC itself, Ledin asked about how the new process was working for the County and any input they may have had from local non-profits.
“I think it did work well for us,” responded Commissioner Merrit Linke. Although, it was indicated that some long-standing recipients of County funds had expressed a concern with a greatly-reduced award in 2017.
“It is a total change in philosophy,” responded Ledin, referring to the health and human services focus of the past year. “It looks at the question of where taxpayer funds are obligated to go, or entitled to go, or expected to go. It makes it a streamlined, non-biased process that follows a mission.” She further indicated that their office had not heard of any undue strain from any of the grantees. “If they struggled with the disparity and didn’t reach out to us, how do we know?”
Commissioner Kris Manguso also took up the intention of taxpayer funds. “Is it up to three commissioners to take taxpayer dollars that are given us for infrastructure, to spend for the best of Grand County citizens, and give them to specific nonprofits?”
Ledin responded by noting the 180-plus nonprofits in Grand County and the many provided services that might otherwise have to be taken up by the County in their absence. “It would be a loss for our community if these nonprofits went away.” A sentiment agreed upon by all present.
In the end, the Board decided to maintain the same focus and process for the 2018 grant cycle, giving some more time to evaluate its efficacy and appropriateness, with a recognition that things continue to change and there may need to be adjustments in the future. The only immediate change, therefore, will be a transition from a paper-based application process to an online process in the new year.
NEW FOCUS, NEW FUNDING FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
In a brief update to the Board, DiAnn Butler, Grand County Economic Development Director, presented about recent activity, including the success of the Disney Way program; the ongoing work towards a county-wide Resiliency Plan, in partnership with Mass Economics consultants who will present to the BOCC next week; and an identified concern with housing issues in the county.
Butler indicated that the need for a housing assessment has become apparent and that her office has applied for grant funding through Freeport-McMoRan to hopefully complete that assessment in the coming year and to create a “common website” for housing searches, options, and availabilities that could be located in a single space.
She also shared her excitement over a $100,000 grant just awarded by the Daniels Fund for a “student-to-career opportunity initiative, to serve youth high-school aged through their 20’s. It is intended to create new pathways and support entrepreneurship for local youth.” While the monies have just been approved, the program will be implemented in partnership with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, an organization that has already provided several youth workshops in Grand County in recent years.
Butler explained that, while the details were not yet set, the $100,000 will be apportioned between the new Grand County Higher Education, the two local school districts, and a program to help local business owners with exit strategy plans that will attempt to “grow locals in ways that they can move into those pathways and take over those businesses.”
This last reflects a direct step towards a newly identified focus for the Economic Development Office, where they are moving from a traditional business recruitment strategy towards a business support strategy for existing businesses. Butler said that while the traditional strategy is to recruit new business, focus on large employers, and cheap labor, the approach doesn’t support the community overall when existing businesses are struggling. Under the new approach the focus will turn to helping to develop talent and creativity in existing businesses, local entrepreneurship, and “quality of place.”
“We want to help our existing businesses solve their problems first,” committed Butler, an idea that was echoed throughout the room.
NEW SUPPORT FOR CONSERVATION FROM LONG-TIME RESOURCE
Katlin Miller, District Manager of the Middle Park Conservation District, recently presented to the BOCC, introducing the organization to new commissioner Rich Cimino, offering highlights as to the District’s fundraising activities and educational outreach, and asking for financial support toward maintaining a part-time conservation technician.
Miller explained that the Middle Park Conservation District was formed by members of Grand and Summit Counties in 1957, under the Colorado Soil Conservation Act, to “promote the wise use and sustainability of land, soil, water, air, wildlife and related resources through education, program administration, and technical assistance for the benefit of all.”
The Conservation District maintains six focus areas of conservation, including hay, range and pasture management, weed management, forest health, water conservation, wildlife conservation, and small acreage management. They work with private land owners and in partnership with other stewards of public lands, such as the US Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Grand County Water Information Network. The District has a volunteer board and, traditionally, a single employee.
The District funds its services through product sales, such as grass and wildflower seeds, tree seedlings and perennials, and tire tanks. They offer well-developed adult education opportunities, such as recent workshops on noxious weeds and herbicides with the Summit County Department of Natural Resources and water law with the High Country Conservation Center. This past summer they partnered with Blue Valley Ranch, a “model for conservation efforts,” according to Miller, for a range managment tour and a hay day with four speakers and 17 sponsors. They also work with both Grand County school districts, the CSU Extension Office, the US Forest Service, and Fraser Rec, among others to offer youth education on water conservation, wildlife protection, and more. — And all this with limited staff resources.
In 2017, however the District qualified for a grant from the Colorado State Conservation Board and NRCS to hire a part-time district conservation technician from June through December, a position filled by recently-retired NRCS specialist, Mark Volt. Miller extolled the good fortune the District has had in retaining Volt, a recognized expert on local range, hay and irrigation. An expertise even more needed as a federal hiring freeze has prevented Volt’s vacated NRCS position from being filled. “Mark has been an invaluable asset,” she said. “Without him, there would be no expert for the public to go to.”
The District has reapplied for the District Conservation Technician grant program, hoping for 75 percent of the position to be funded through 2018. Miller explained that the District must match 25 percent of the budget, calculated at $5,801. She requested that the BOCC commit to paying half of that amount, $2,900, a request happily agreed to by all three commissioners.
“There’s a lot of value to it,” recognized Commissioner Linke.