GOCO more flexible in granting funds
BRECKENRIDGE – The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board has adopted a more flexible funding policy that could mean more dollars for open space, wildlife, parks and recreation projects in Summit County.GOCO, which was created in 1992, dedicates a portion of state lottery proceeds to projects that preserve and enhance Colorado’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open space parcels.If you buy lottery tickets, you have a piece of this action.Under the terms of the constitutional amendment, the organization must, over time, generally distribute funds equally to wildlife, open space, parks and recreation and local government projects.But the board has come under critical fire in recent years from county officials – including those in Summit County – who alleged the organization wasn’t fairly distributing its funds.Since 1995, GOCO has funded almost $2 million for 27 projects in Summit County ranging from open space acquisitions to skateboard parks. That doesn’t include another $725,000 to state or federal agencies working on projects in the area.Additionally, some counties questioned why the board had to be so strict in its funding of various projects.For example, Breckenridge and Summit County officials were concerned about how to word a grant application for the Golden Horseshoe and the B&B open space purchase, knowing that if they applied for open space funds, they might get denied because the area also features motorized uses, which typically aren’t allowed under the open space criteria.John Swartout, who was named executive director in January, said Summit County’s cooperation with other entities – the various towns, U.S. Forest Service and others – has improved the county’s chances of getting GOCO grant funds.”They’re to be commended for the quality of their partnerships,” he said. “They’ve done the work; they’ve done a great job, and that’s why (projects) have been funded.”Swartout, who was visiting various High Country county officials Thursday, said increased flexibility on behalf of the board will now allow them to respond to the overall needs of the community.”The Upper French Gulch (parcel) didn’t quite fit (in GOCO’s criteria),” he said. “We had to look at the big picture, see what the counties are struggling to do. The board has so much more local perspective than prior boards.”Since 2001, the GOCO board also has the authority to issue up to $115 million in bonds, and some governmental entities have asked why they don’t issue the money while interest rates are still low and before real estate prices start escalating again.”A lot of people are coming forward and saying, “this is mandated,'” said county manager Ron Holliday, who holds a seat on the GOCO board. “It is not a mandate. But it’s a good tool when you need it, and GOCO is ready to use it when it needs it, but we’re exploring different areas as well.”The ability to bond was originally devised as a means to protect large projects critical to the entire state.”If something had huge statewide significance,” Swartout said, “and it came on the market, and the opportunity was so valuable that it would be lost forever, and we couldn’t get it with proceeds from the Lottery, (bonding) gives us the ability to pull it in.”But it has its drawbacks, too.”Whatever you bond for has to be spent in three years,” Swartout said. “A lot of big Legacy Projects took longer to bring to fruition. The board has been very cautious about bonding.”Bonds would be repaid through future lottery revenue to GOCO, which, in the time the bonds are issued and the time they are repaid, could diminish the amount of money available to other projects.Right now, GOCO has recovered from past Legacy Project grant payments, and cash flow is good so the organization might be able to take on some larger projects without bonding, Swartout said.He estimates lottery proceeds will come close to their cap of $35 million adjusted for inflation at 1992 figures – or $46.5 million for the 2001-02 fiscal year. Once revenue exceeds that amount, any extra goes to public education.Lottery figures are off, but Powerball is what’s helping boost revenue, Swartout said.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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