Trails are Important, but Funding is Undecided

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by Tara Walker
During the November 5 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners debated the recent October decision to cut the $40,000 Headwaters Trails Alliance funding line item. Other topics of debate were whether to remove the 15% funding cap from 1a, whether to add dedicated county funding for trails under a department like Road and Bridge and whether a new vote should be presented in 2019 to help with trails funding. No decisions were made and the topic was tabled until next week’s BOCC meeting.

Established in 1996, Headwaters Trails Alliance (HTA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in Grand County dedicated to identifying, maintaining, and expanding an accessible, interconnected trail system for the appropriate multi-user groups.

HTA provided information in 2017 showing that Grand County has more trails than any other county, yet the funding for trails maintenance in Grand County is significantly less than any other area in Colorado. Many counties now have a dedicated funding source for trails except for Grand County. Grand County currently has over 1,000 miles of trails that are enjoyed yearly and trail usage in the last two years is up an estimated 18-23%. HTA supporters expressed that Ballot measure 1a (passed November of 2016) is a great step in the right direction but has limitations. There is a budget shortfall, particularly in administrative costs that they are trying to remedy. Ballot Measure 1a established a .3 percent sales tax should help with HTA funding, but HTA is concerned because there is 15% cap for trails and a competitive grant process for funding so HTA isn’t guaranteed to receive those tax dollars.

The Cap is limiting and there have been talks about whether the cap could be removed. Commissioner Cimino explained that there are two different legal interpretations being offered regarding the cap as there is a debate about whether the ballot language reflected the 15% cap clearly to voters. If the language wasn’t clear, the cap could be removed and that is a consideration that Cimino supports, but Linke wasn’t sure. Linke proposed to put HTA back into budget as a line item for 2019 and look for more sustainable options in the future for budgeting. Commissioner Manguso agreed.

Manguso, “I want to be able to build new trails; motorized, hiking and biking trails. I am in favor of funding through economic development as it is an economic development driver.” Grand County Historical Association Executive Director Shana Ganne gave concerns over adding line items to fund nonprofits. It is not sustainable as a funding stream and it gives preferential treatment to one nonprofit while taking money from other areas of need in the county. She also voiced a concern about moving in that direction, “If you add line items for economic development for this, you open the doors for others that also deserve that type of funding. Consider that other organizations will ask for the same treatment.”
Commissioner Cimino said the voters were clear what they wanted, “It is my position that we figure out a way to fund through open lands and trails. I am opposed to continue using general funds. We need to stop funding nonprofits haphazardly. We need to stop subjective giving of moneys. We spend millions in county health and county human services and donations on top of that. All these nonprofits are phenomenal and deserving of moneys and we can’t take tax payer dollars to decide to give more money to one entity. I don’t want to do a line item anymore.”

The commissioners questioned whether Grand County should add a permanent source of funding for trails in order to be at the same level as the rest of the state and questioned what department trails would be added to. Road and Bridge were mentioned as an option as many other counties have added trails to Road and Bridge.

County Manager Lee Staab proposed waiting to vote until we hear what other towns are willing to give towards funding as there are meetings upcoming that could provide more information.

Commissioner Linke, “We are opening a can of worms. We can claim everything is economic development for everything we do and I don’t know the answer, but do agree that we need to hear what other towns are willing to add before making the decision. I still support some funding as a line item for this year on a temporary basis until can find sustainable funding in the future.”

Manguso, “This needs to be a longer-term solution and maybe we go for a specific trail tax. The cap is so limiting that it makes it difficult. We may need to go back to the ballot.”

Commissioner Linke ended the meeting by expressing that Commissioners support funding HTA and they believe in the trails but aren’t willing to make decisions at this time. County Manager Lee Staab does not expect approval of the final 2019 budget until early December.

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