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Proposal could decimate GOCO funding, damage projects

State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling has proposed a measure (HCR10-1007) that would redirect funding from GOCO, potentially devastating current and future ranch protection, trails and parks projects in Archuleta County. The measure that would affect town, county and Land Trust projects reads as follows:

“Beginning with the third quarter of the 2010-11 state fiscal year, the concurrent resolution allows the transfer of all available net proceeds minus any moneys required to pay bonds issued by law by the trust fund board of every state-supervised lottery game operated under the authority of section 2 of article XVIII of the state constitution to the state education fund if the general assembly declares a state fiscal emergency by adopting a joint resolution approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the members of both houses of the general assembly and the governor.”

HCR10-1007 would affect all Lottery proceeds, including all local governments’ 40-percent share through the Conservation Trust Fund (CTF), all of Colorado’s State Parks’ 10-percent share, and GOCO’s grant dollars (approximately $55 million) that go to local governments, land trusts, Colorado State Parks and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The measure would only set aside enough Lottery proceeds to pay off any bonds GOCO has issued. However, the GOCO board awards grants in advance of the Lottery proceeds being received, rather than carrying significant cash balances until projects are completed, GOCO awards grants ahead of receipt of proceeds in order to use its funds more efficiently, allowing it to meet the same needs as bonding, without incurring the associated costs.?This measure would also not recognize GOCO’s conservative and responsible approach to funding projects since it would only honor obligations resulting from bonding.

This would hang hundreds of projects out to dry, including some in Archuleta County. GOCO currently has more than 300 projects to which it has made grant awards of approximately $122 million that have not yet been paid. One of those projects is the East Fork Ranch Project. GOCO currently has approximately $36 million in cash on hand. If this measure was in effect and a State Fiscal Emergency was declared today, the following would be affected (figures below provided by the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts): 117 local government park, outdoor recreation and trail grants.

These projects are in 39 counties in every region of the state. This includes several projects in Archuleta County. On average, GOCO dollars provide roughly 48 percent of these projects’ funding. Not being able to use Conservation Trust Fund dollars as a match for GOCO grants further erodes the ability of local governments to complete these projects.?Work would likely have to be stopped on most of these projects if GOCO funding were suddenly unavailable. This could also lead to litigation between contractors/vendors and the local governments, if they’re forced to cancel contracts.

GOCO has 20 current Open Space grants, in 19 counties in every region of the state.With local governments facing budget pressures, it is likely that these deals would be stopped without GOCO funding. Fourteen projects will place conservation easements over 115,000 acres.

Other facts:

• Significant water rights will be protected by many of these easements ensuring that local water stays in local use.

• Landowners often use sales of conservation easements to maintain their property’s agricultural viability (by using the proceeds to pay down debts and reinvest in their operations). Redirecting GOCO funds away from these purchases will negatively impact the long-term viability of agriculture.

• Landowners who have invested considerable time, effort and money on structuring their deals for estate purposes could see those efforts wasted — and their property’s future put at risk — if GOCO’s funds are directed away from these purchases.

• For these projects, GOCO represents 43 percent of project funding. Redirecting these funds to another use will likely mean that most, if not all, are left undone.

Multi-purpose Legacy Grants: The measure could terminate trail construction, local and regional parks projects, and conservation easements, totaling 8,676 acres in Gunnison, Adams, El Paso, Pueblo, Morgan, including 3,000 acres in Mineral, and Archuleta counties.

In all grant programs, particularly the use of the award of a GOCO grant, grantees provide proof of the award of a grant to other funders as a demonstration of their funding and commitment to the project. Without those GOCO grants, or with the threat of their being essentially canceled, other funding becomes less likely. Many local governments use bond dollars and GOCO dollars to complete projects.

If the measure passes, those local governments would be paying interest and costs for a project that may not be completed without GOCO. Archuleta County often leverages our Ballot 1A Funds and GOCO grants for many projects.

It is well understood that we have a state budget and education crisis. However, the people created GOCO and the Colorado Lottery that funds it. The people should decide if we want this change. Contact your elected representatives at every level and let them know your opinion on this issue.