March 28, 2018
School districts and school funding were topics of interest at the most recent Board of County Commissioners’ (BOCC) meeting as both misplaced funds and allocation of federal funds were discussed.
SCHOOL ESCROW FUNDS WRONGLY DEPOSITED
During Tuesday’s Public Comment period, County Treasurer Christina Whitmer made the Board aware of $11,000 that had been wrongly deposited into the County’s general fund, rather than the protected East Grand School District escrow fund for developer monies in-lieu of school lands.
Whitmer explained that each time a new subdivision is approved and platted, statute requires that the developer also dedicate land for school district use or pay fees-in-lieu of land. The fees are collected by the Community Development department, as part of their planning and zoning services. The monies are then held in escrow by the County on behalf of the school district, in this case East Grand Schools.
She reported that she had only become aware of the mistake when she had been directly asked about whether or not the specific payment had been received. When she did not see a deposit to the escrow account, she searched other accounts and found the $11,264 had been deposited to Planning Fees instead. This second account is part of the general fund. “If we put it into the general fund, it will be spent,” she emphasized. “The money does not belong to us. It belongs to East Grand Schools.”
Whitmer further explained her concern, saying that without procedure that notifies the Treasurer’s office when a new development is platted and fees are due, there is “no way for the Treasurer to know that the money belongs to the school district.” She cited other incidents of concern, including checks being held for over 30 days before deposit and another $1 million check that had been mis-deposited several months ago, all by the same County department from which over half a million dollars in misappropriated Building department funds were revealed in 2014. “Excuses are made and procedures are not followed. And it is not being fixed,” she said.
BOCC Chair Merrit Linke indicated that County Manager Lee Staab and Finance Director Curtis Lange were aware of the situation. “We need to fix this internally.” And Commissioner Kristen Manguso asked that the error be fixed and that verification be provided to the BOCC.
Upon being asked about the incident later, Manager Staab stated that the mistake occurred when “the incorrect code was inadvertently used when depositing the $11,000 check. This error will be corrected by issuing a warrant which will result in moving the funds from the General Fund to the correct account.” He also explained that “each department has standard operating procedures for cash collections, deposits, and internal control.” He said that those procedures include often daily deposits to the Treasurer’s office and monthly reconciliations, at which time, he is confident the error would have been identified.
East Grand Schools had been notified of the error by the Treasurer’s office. District Finance Director Donette Schmiedbauer indicated that the monies were for a preliminary plat approved in August 2016. Their last receipt of fees-in-lieu of land was in December of last year and, at this time, she says that there is only one other subdivision that has been approved for a similar payment. The Ranches at Devil’s Thumb, in preliminary plat in February of this year, was approved for a $9,705.10 payment in-lieu of lands. She expressed confidence that the County’s error would be corrected.
To that end, Staab stated, “To ensure no other errors have occurred, Grand County will reconcile all development plats approved by the BOCC requiring school fees, 2013 to present.”
COUNTY ALLOCATES SECURE RURAL SCHOOLS PAYMENT
Commissioners also heard on Tuesday that the County had received $1,192,049.29 in federal funds under the Secure Rural Schools/National Forest Payment. Under the Act of May 23, 1908, an annual payment is made to US counties from which National Forest monies have been received. The payment represents 25 percent of receipts for that county.
The State of Colorado received over $6 million this year in Secure Rural Schools funds, a threshold that determines division of the funds to be at least 25 percent to local school districts, up to 25 percent to county road and bridge funds, and 50 percent to be allocated by a panel of school representatives and county officials.
For the past three years, the BOCC has allocated 100 percent of the Secure Rural Schools payments to the West and East Grand school districts. This decision, presented Lange, has been informed by the fact that other federal funds from Payment in Lieu of Taxes, known as PILT, are reduced if National Forest funds are retained by the County. Manguso informed those present that an email received that same day indicated that PILT would be fully funded for this year’s payment.
The superintendents of each school district were present, indicating the importance of the funds to their districts. Frank Reeves of East Grand noted that staff and parents were concerned with school safety and such aging infrastructure as non-functioning intercoms. Darrin Peppard also acknowledged school safety as a concern but cited teacher retention and the ability to invest in both teachers and support staff as an important need.
Commissioners addressed the school representatives with Commissioner Cimino offering caution, “Don’t count on this always working like the way it’s working now.” Linke expanded on the thought, explaining, “Giving this money to the schools brings more total money to the County now, but we don’t always know what will happen.”
Linke then inquired about the Indian Peaks Charter School, who has not previously received part of the Secure Rural Schools funding. It was explained that Indian Peaks was no longer part of the East Grand School District, now being chartered under the Colorado Charter School Institute, a statewide authorizer. Reeves indicated that, while East Grand provide some contracted services to Indian Peaks, they are no longer responsible for their funding.
The Board voted unanimously to allocate 100 percent of this years’ received Secure Rural School funds to the East and West Grand School districts. The monies will be divided according to per-pupil counts.
April 4, 2018
Commissioners Merrit Linke and Kristen Manguso heard various department updates at the most recent regular meeting of the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and discussed their own calendar items.
SECURE RURAL SCHOOLS FUNDS DISTRIBUTED
Grand County Treasurer presented the Board with a resolution that will approve the distribution of $1,192,049.29 to the East and West Grand school districts. The monies were recently received from the Secure Rural Schools/National Forest payment, a federal payment made annually to US counties from which National Forest monies have been received. Given the over $6 million received by the State of Colorado this year, 25 percent of the funds must go to schools, up to 25 percent can be retained for County Road & Bridge operations, and the remaining 50 percent may be allocated as the County decides.
This is the fourth consecutive year that the BOCC has voted to give the entirety of the payment to the two school districts. According to County Finance Director Curtis Lange, the Secure Rural Schools funds given away have been “back-filled,” during that time period, by another federal program called PILT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, whereby the federal government offsets property tax losses due to non-taxable federal lands within a district. Close to 65 percent of Grand County acreage is non-taxable federal lands.
Under the resolution, the monies are divided on a per-pupil basis, meaning that 74.61 percent or $889,387.98 will go to East Grand Schools and 25.39 percent or $302,661.31 will go to West Grand. District superintendents attended the initial vote where Frank Reeves of East Grand indicated that some of the funds will be used to address staff and parent concerns of student safety, while Darrin Peppard of West Grand cited a need for funds to increase teacher and staff retention.
COMMUNITY HEALTH ASSESSMENT CONTRACTED
With Public Health Director Brene Belew-LaDue out of town, Jen Fanning, Executive Director of Grand County Rural Health, was on hand to present the board with a $62,805 contract for a community health assessment. Fanning explained that the assessment is mandated every five years. The results of which “feed into the State Health Department’s five-year plan” and those of other governmental and non-profit partner agencies. They are used, she said, “to decide how to make needed changes in our community.”
The presented contract was with Corona Insights, one of four proposals reviewed by a project management committee, and only one of two that demonstrated previous experience with similar assessment. The contract includes project planning, capacity assessment, a mail survey, direct interviews with residents and a presentation and prioritization meeting. The assessment period will be April through October of this year, with a written Public Health Improvement Plan approved and sent to the State Board of Health by December.
Manguso brought attention to a letter from Finance Director Lange that notes only $20,000 having been budgeted for the assessment, and another $5,000 that could be allocated from line items. He said that the County may need to supplement the Department budget for the remaining $32,805, though he said there are unexpended funds from previous years that may cover the supplemental. Both commissioners agreed to the contract as presented.
GRAND COUNTY RESIDENTS WILLING DONORS
County Clerk Sara Rosene informed the Board about recent numbers showing Grand County among the highest in Colorado for registered organ and tissue donors. 75.32 percent of county residents opt into the donor program when registering in Grand County, above the state-wide average of 67.98 percent.
Rosene stated that “it’s not just my employees but the people in our community who have generously participated in this program. I’m extremely proud of my office and appreciate the support from the community.”
Commissioners discussed their recent and upcoming calendar events, starting with the visitation of town meetings across Grand County. County Manager Lee Staab indicated that meetings were being scheduled in April and May for the Commissioners to attend the various regular town meetings. Definitive dates have only been set, so far, for May 2 in Kremmling and April 24 in Granby, with other possible dates still being explored for Winter Park, Fraser, Hot Sulphur Springs and Grand Lake. Manguso affirmed that she would be present for the Kremmling meeting.
Both commissioners indicated that they would be attending the Veteran Affairs Town Hall and Annual Grand County Veterans Spring Dinner at the CSU Extension Hall in Kremmling on the April 19.
Commissioner Manguso noted that she would be participating in the Colorado Water Quality/Quantity Committee board retreat the 26 and 27 of April. She recalled that she has been attending the meetings regularly and intends to remain active with the important group, to which the County contributed $22,000 this year.
Commissioner Linke indicated that he was elected Chair Elect at the most recent Club 20 meeting. He explained that Club 20 is a 65-year-old coalition that originally came together for the purpose of paving roads in Western Colorado, when the majority of funding is directed to the Front Range. The group’s advocacy has expanded to other areas of mutual concern for the Western counties, including water issues, health care equity, economic development, public lands, tourism, energy, recreation and telecommunications.
The coalition is comprised of local governments, tribes, businesses, and individuals and Linke promoted membership as “a good bang for the buck, as everyone has a voice. Though, in general membership meetings, each county has one vote.” Linke will serve two years as Chair Elect, two years as Chair, and two years as Past Chair.