County OKs change in system

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a change in the way the board receives a share of fees collected locally on the national forests.

Commissioners Dan Ellison and Doug Monger accepted the recommendation of Finance Director Dan Strnad that commissioners opt to change the way they receive federal dollars representing 25 percent of the fees collected by the National Forest system. Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak was not present.

The fees are paid by industries like skiing and timber harvesting. The annual amount that comes back to Routt County can be as much as $350,000. Of that total, at least 5 percent must go to local public schools. The commissioners have been required in the past to devote the balance to their road and bridge fund.

Under the new system, the commissioners have agreed to lock their annual share into a share of statewide calculation. That's in contrast to the old method of pegging the county's share to annual fluctuations on fees collected in the Routt National Forest. A small fraction of the fees have also come from portions of the White River and Arapahoe national forests within Routt County.

In exchange for making the change, commissioners will be free to apply a little more than $50,000 annually to other budget items beyond road and bridge.

For example, the county currently funds a portion of the annual budget of Routt County Search and Rescue, a separate not-for-profit. Under the new system of receiving forest service fees, the county could reimburse Search and Rescue out of the $50,000. First, however, they would have to advertise plans and allow for public comment.

Strnad said that although the commissioners, in theory, are giving up the potential upside of forest fees over the next five years, his analysis shows the risk is minimal.

"Given the planned low volume of the timber harvest, the low price for timber and no significant change in ski area receipts (for at least several years)," the change approved by the commissioners appears to be very safe, Strnad said.

A possible wild card is the possibility that the Canadian and U.S. governments would negotiate a treaty limiting Canadian timber exports, resulting in a stronger U.S. timber industry and a stronger demand for local forest products, he said.

The range of projects the commissioners may consider funding with the $50,000 includes community forestry, community service work camps, forest-related educational opportunities and other costs related to emergency services and fire prevention.

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