State AG says GOCO should abide by law |

State AG says GOCO should abide by law

SUMMIT COUNTY – State Attorney General Ken Salazar said last week that Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the voter-approved agency that allocates Colorado Lottery proceeds to protect open space, needs to develop rules by which it determines who gets what funds.

Currently, the agency’s board relies on the memories of board members, said Ken Lane, Salazar’s deputy attorney general for policy and general affairs.

GOCO has been plagued by a variety of accusations from municipalities and open space entities lately, including that the board hasn’t divvied up the money fairly to all the agencies and counties vying for the pot and that board member affiliations have played into decisions.

GOCO funds are derived from 50 percent of Lottery sale proceeds and are distributed equally to Colorado Division of Wildlife, state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, local governments and other land conservation organizations.

GOCO will fund no more than 75 percent of a project’s total costs and bases its grant awards on a list of criteria including the geographic and natural values of a property, its current and proposed uses, adjoining property uses, access, how unique the property is, what could happen if it’s not protected and how it might generate additional conservation activity in the area.

Summit County open space officials have often expressed concern that their grant applications haven’t been evaluated fairly by the board, which uses a point system to determine the value of a project and the urgency needed to protect it.

Last week, county Open Space Advisory Commissioner (OSAC) members cited an incident in which the board passed over a Pitkin County grant application for land that had already been purchased in favor of another parcel that hadn’t yet been purchased. Summit County has a similar dilemma with its desire to obtain GOCO funds to offset the costs of Cow Camp, a 500-plus-acre parcel near Heeney the county purchased last month for $2.66 million.

OSAC members said last week that politics and a good ol’ boy system are the driving forces behind GOCO’s decisions when allocating funds to protect open space, parks and wildlife.

But in the same breath, commissioners agreed they need to continue “playing the game” if they want GOCO to consider grant applications Summit County submits in the future. They also want to make plans to lobby board members and help them understand the importance of Summit County’s grants.

“We’ve got to get into this GOCO fight,” said county Open Space Advisory Commissioner and Blue River water commissioner Scott Hummer. “We’ve got to get GOCO back to where it should be. What GOCO is today isn’t what it was intended to be.”

Salazar reminded the board that GOCO funds are meant to supplement, not serve as a substitute for, money the state gives wildlife and open space entities. He also reminded them that, despite any other affiliation board members might have with other organizations, the board has a responsibility to use GOCO funds wisely, Lane said.

“This is an issue that’s been around for a long time,” Lane said. “It’s become more prominent because everyone’s in a budget crunch. It’s a reminder that, understanding the tough budgetary times, the GOCO board has a Constitutional amendment and fiduciary responsibility by which to abide.

“It also tells the Legislature that they can’t look at GOCO money and say, “Well, that can go to parks, so we don’t have to fund them like we historically have,” Lane said. “It’s limited by the Constitutional amendment.”

Salazar noted that the GOCO board is responsible for all the grant allocations, but OSAC commissioner Scott Hummer noted they aren’t accountable to anyone. GOCO board members are appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate.

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