Steamboat Springs No one on the dais Tuesday night doubted the hundreds of thousands of dollars Steamboat Springs doles out to nonprofits each year are a worthy investment.
But nearly everyone there said more thought should be put into how those dollars are spent.
City of Steamboat Springs officials are moving forward with a plan they say will add integrity to the process the city uses to award grants to community groups.
“The current process creates some negative situations,” Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night.
Under the current system, the Arts and Culture, Human Resources and Environment coalitions each utilize separate allocation committees that weigh grant requests from local nonprofit groups. These committees then decide how to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of city funding each year.
This fiscal year, the city awarded those coalitions $329,975, according to Hinsvark, but City Council has no say in how that money is distributed or who serves on those committees. Some nonprofits also have accused committee members of having conflicts of interest as they decide how to dole out the money.
Hinsvark, who previously served as the city’s finance director, said that throughout the past few years, she has received complaints about the current system from nonprofit members arguing the amount of funding was unfair and requests to utilize standardized forms when applying for grants.
“There’s enough acrimony that we obviously need to take a look at the process,” Hinsvark said Tuesday. “Every dollar we have of the taxpayers’ is an important dollar.”
Council member Kenny Reisman agreed.
He said the system, which was introduced in 2007, “isn’t a smooth process,” but said it was close to being one.
“I think we can make some tweaks to it that will make it a process we can be proud of,” he said.
But not all council members and nonprofit leaders think the funding system is broken.
Kelly Stanford, president of Routt County United Way, told the council that the Human Resources Coalition already uses standardized forms when it weighs grant requests and that committee members recuse themselves from votes where there could be perceived conflicts of interest.
Citing that efficiency, council member Kevin Kaminski said the city’s community support funding process mostly is working.
But council concluded the system needs to be tweaked.
It verbally endorsed a plan to maintain the core of the current grant awarding structure while modifying it to make it more transparent.
Faced with a few options, council members passed on an alternative that would have outsourced the process to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation or, potentially, the United Way. Cari Hermacinski was absent.
Hinsvark said the city’s new system will require allocation committee members to sign conflict-of-interest statements and for the coalitions to use a standard set of forms.
It also will give council a new oversight role.
Council members will develop a “score card” that each grant will be weighed against, Hinsvark said. Council members also will have an opportunity to sign off on the list of each coalition’s committee members.
The city’s community support funding process was thrust into the spotlight last year when Steamboat Springs Arts Council Executive Director Clark Davidson accused Nancy Kramer, the leader of the Arts and Culture Coalition, of having a conflict of interest because she was serving as director of the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series, which received more funding from the city in 2012 than it did in 2011.
Davidson said the Arts Council’s funding from the city decreased 72 percent in 2011 and asked the council to re-examine the allocation structure.
Other highlights from Tuesday’s City Council meeting include:
■ Catamount water release progresses: After a lengthy discussion that involved lawyers, a state water engineer, a tubing operator and a Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist, the City Council voted unanimously to move forward with a plan that could pump an additional 1,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Catamount into the Yampa River.
After Division 6 State Water Engineer Erin Light said it would be protected on its journey north, the council agreed to move 500 acre-feet of the city’s emergency water from Stagecoach Reservoir to Catamount so that 500 acre-feet of water from the reservoir near Steamboat could be released into the Yampa to help support fisheries during the ongoing drought. The city’s emergency water will be held in Catamount.
David Hill, president of Catamount Development, said the timing of the releases from Catamount have yet to be determined.
Catamount officials planned to release the first 500 acre-feet as a donation but decided they could double the release if the city moved its emergency water into the lake to help offset a drop of about a foot in the lake’s water level.
Council plans to vote on the proposal again at its next meeting after a legal agreement is reached with Catamount regarding the storage of the water.
■ Water restrictions getting teeth: The council approved the first reading of an ordinance that aims to give teeth to its mandatory water restrictions. The ordinance would allow the city to levy fines on residents who do not comply with the watering restrictions that were imposed in response to a severe drought. City Manager Jon Roberts said the city received 10 complaints about noncompliance during the first week of the restrictions. He added the city hopes to avoid having to impose fines on water users.
“I would hope our initial approach of education and simply asking residents to help us will achieve the intended result (of the restrictions) without us having to enforce fines,” he said.
■ Crane funding grounded: Council member Sonja Macys urged the council to spend $500 to sponsor the inaugural Yampa Valley Crane Festival slated to take flight next month. In a 3-3 vote, council rejected the investment opportunity. Macys said the festival was born out of the recent movement to save the local sandhill crane population from potential hunting. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife dropped last month a proposal to initiate a sandhill crane hunting season in Northwest Colorado.
■ New cell tower for AT&T: The council approved a new AT&T tower that could improve the company’s cellular service in Steamboat Springs. The new tower will be constructed on the city’s wastewater treatment plant property off Routt County Road 33 and will be operated by New Cingular Wireless, an AT&T subsidiary. Cingular will pay the city $1,000 each month under the proposed lease.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com