Energy impact grants may be cut by $5 million

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— Routt County has received more than $9 million in mineral and energy impact fund grants in the past five years. That money has helped pay for public projects such as roads, public safety, water, sewer and buildings.

But the grants, which come from the state's Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Program, may be decreased by about $5 million to help fund the Department of Local Affairs, Routt County commissioners learned at the winter conference for Colorado Counties Inc.

The conference, held last week in Colorado Springs, brought together representatives from 51 of Colorado's 63 counties.

The state's budget was a central topic, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

Gov. Bill Owens said the state's economy was looking better during his speech to the county representatives, but the counties are still concerned about the economy, Monger said.

Monger and some other county commissioners do not approve of the proposal to use funds from the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Program to help support the Department of Local Affairs.

"These monies were set aside to help with the impacts," of energy and mineral development, Monger said.

Each year, about $30 million is granted to counties and other districts for public projects. The funds come from state severance tax funds and federal mineral lease revenues, and help support towns and counties affected by energy and mineral development.

The state advisory committee for the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Program considers each request for funding separately, paying attention to how requests are prioritized locally.

The Joint Budget Committee has suggested that the Department of Local Affairs use about $5 million of that $30 million for its operational costs.

Mike Beasley, executive director of the department, said the department opposes the suggestion, but that it will do its best to help the legislature balance next year's budget.

"I'm not overly concerned at this point that this suggestion will actually become law," Beasley said. But he said efforts to maintain the full grant funding are important.

"Routt County and Northwest Colorado should continue to be very vigilant about this fund and the direction this is going," he said.

In 2003, Routt County districts have won about $1 million for projects. There are five applications for grants in the current grant cycle, totaling almost $840,000, that will be decided in mid-winter.

Also during the meeting, Monger was elected to serve on the Colorado Counties Inc. board of directors. He will be one of the six board members who make executive decisions and do administrative work for the organization.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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