Why some Summit County commissioners think the wildfire grants program isn’t equitable
And here’s what they are doing to fix it
When Summit County voters passed Ballot Measure 1A in 2018, it effectively dedicated public funds to five different buckets: early childhood care, behavioral health programs, fire mitigation, recycling and public infrastructure. As of January, the measure had accrued over $39 million that gets divided and then allocated to these five buckets.
When it came to wildfire mitigation, this meant that a portion of these dollars were spent on supporting staff from the U.S. Forest Service, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Forest Service, as well as seasonal help, to conduct educational outreach and lead various fire mitigation projects throughout the county.
Other items funded include wildfire grants given to community members who will do their own mitigation efforts around their homes, as well as tree cutting and advertising.
Every so often, the success of these programs is reviewed. This happened most recently during a Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session Tuesday, May 24.
During the meeting, Dan Schroder who leads the Summit County Wildfire Council, ran through details about what the various grants were and how awards are determined.
After the presentation, Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue expressed a concern about equity.
“It is very striking to me how many of these projects are in more affluent neighborhoods and how we seem to be missing some of our less affluent neighborhoods,” Pogue said. “I raised this last year when we had this conversation and I have not seen the trend reverse itself.”
Pogue said her concern was that the county’s model currently awards more affluent homeowner associations over less affluent associations and asked why that might be.
According to the presentation, grant requests have come from neighborhoods like Hamilton Creek, Summerwood, Silver Shekel, The Seasons at Keystone, Pebble Creek Ranch and Keystone Ranch West.
In response, Schroder explained how the current process works. To begin with, he said that it takes one individual to spearhead a project and bring it forward. There’s an element of cost that is playing a part, too.
“So affluent communities, the ones who can manage taking one of these on, are the groups that can pay the entire cost of the project upfront,” Schroder said. “A year goes by — they have a year to complete the project as presented and improve — and then they get reimbursed. Internally, they figure out who gets what percentage of the reimbursement. I believe that’s why it ends up being the affluent communities in the first place.”
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence pointed out that the county doesn’t have to have the process set up like this. She also questioned the location of some of these neighborhoods and said that these grants usually go to neighborhoods in heavily forested parts of the county.
Even still, Pogue pushed for updating the process so that these grants were readily available to all community members.
“It is fundamentally inequitable to ask a community to define leadership when folks in that community are more likely to be working 40, 60, 80 hours a week than folks in another community,” Pogue said. “I don’t think we can rely on that leadership, necessarily, as a linchpin of this model and expect it to have an equitable impact across our community. I’d really like to see it reformed.”
Lawrence suggested that the county reach out to neighborhoods who haven’t been on the list and ramp up marketing efforts. She also suggested that the county pay a contractor to complete the work upfront rather than reimbursing the homeowner associations when work is complete.
Schroder expressed his interest for overhauling some components of the program and suggested that marketing efforts could start as soon as the chipping program ends in July.
For more information on the county’s wildfire grants, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/907/Wildfire-Council.
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