November 4, 2009

State budget woes could push back new Fairplay library

Mike Potter
Staff Writer

Future Library This conceptual drawing shows what the new Fairplay Library complex would look like after it is complete. Contruction could be delayed by a freeze on grant money from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Park County was hoping to get some grant money from DOLA from its Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund. (Diagram courtesy of Patty Chapman)

State budget problems have resulted in halting distribution of grant money that Park County was hoping to use for the construction of the new Fairplay Library, which could cost Park County more money in the long run.

The construction of the library could be delayed by as much as a year.

According to a November Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund Status and Timeline provided by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is taking $45 million from the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund (EIAF), which is controlled by DOLA, and diverting that money to the state's general fund to help shore up a $318 million revenue shortfall. The state has also suspended the awarding of $25 million in grants from the EIAF until January 31, 2010, in case the state's economic problems continue.

Grants that were received by Aug. 1, 2009, by DOLA will be tabled until sometime in 2010, when DOLA will begin awarding grants again.

The money for the EIAF comes from severance taxes paid to the federal government for mining and drilling of minerals on federally-owned land.

Greg Winkler, regional manager for DOLA's northern mountain region, which includes Park County, could not be reached for comment.

Park County Budget and Finance Director Kathy Boyce said DOLA usually accepts grant applications and distributes grant money three times per year. But not now.

"The governor's office has raided that money," she said.

Park County Commissioner John Tighe said the county planned to submit a grant application to DOLA for $1 million to help with construction costs for the Fairplay Library, which would include offices for county departments. The library would be built next to the current library in the Old Courthouse in downtown Fairplay, and it would be connected to the historic building.

"We could have applied in 2010 and started to build in 2011," Tighe said. But the suspension of grant applications will push back the date the county could apply for a grant.

He said the county is looking at building in 2012 now.

Tighe said the moratorium on grant awards is hurting rural Colorado.

"I know the governor has a problem with his budget, but he's taking money from rural Colorado," he said.

Park County most recently was awarded a DOLA grant from the EIAF for the Park County Search and Rescue Building being built in Fairplay next to the North-West Fire Protection District station.

He said that when counties go to DOLA with a grant application, it's not for something trivial.

"When we go after that money, it's not for a want; it's for a need," he said.

The county had planned to put a number of offices in the new library building, including some that have been displaced by the condemnation of the McNamara Building in Fairplay.

The county now will have to pay rent at a rate of about $40,000 to $50,000 a year for a number of offices, Tighe said.

The county is probably going to pay around $36,000 a year in rent for office space for the Park County Office of Public Health and for Human Services, he said. It will pay about an additional $7,500 a year for offices for the Park County Sheriff's Office, but that doesn't account for all of the departments displaced by the building closure.

"We do not have a place as of yet for maintenance and storage," Tighe said.

He figured the county would have an annual expense of around $18,000 for that as well.

He said not all of those offices displaced by the McNamara Building closure would be housed in the new library facility, but some of them would. And the sooner it could be built, the less time Park County would be paying rent.

"Is that the most appropriate way of using tax funding?" he asked. "I'd rather be investing that money in our own building."

A DOLA press release said the state is not suspending the grant awards indefinitely and that they would continue at some point in the future.

Even so, some aren't waiting for that to happen, and instead are working to get the library built without DOLA money.

Patty Chapman, Park County Public Libraries director, said she is looking at seeking private grants for the construction.

She is still hoping that the DOLA money could come through eventually, when the moratorium on grant applications is lifted.

"We are still hopeful," she said. "I will never not look at the bright side."

She said the library would take the extra time to refine its grant application to DOLA for that time when the money becomes available again.

"In the meantime, we're just going to be working harder at getting other grants," she said.

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