Pitco questions use of lottery funds | AspenTimes.com

Pitco questions use of lottery funds

Local officials are taking a stand on how other communities in the state use lottery proceeds ” specifically that they should be strictly used for buying and maintaining open space.

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners has sent multiple letters to the board of Great Outdoors Colorado expressing concern that the board isn’t being strict about designating most of the money for land preservation. In Pitkin County, where there never seems to be a shortage of open space that needs to be preserved, the commissioners have no shortage of opinions on how the funds should be designated.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director Dale Will said the letters from the commissioners specifically express concern about what they see as GOCO’s change in focus “away from land acquisition and toward other things.”

And the most recent letter, drafted about a week ago, comes at a time when many are questioning use of the lottery funds. In early November, a series of articles in The Denver Post exposed how some communities in the state have used their segment of a state lottery fund for amenities like air conditioning or higher salaries for the division of wildlife.

As advertisements for the Colorado lottery tout, all profits generated when you buy a ticket are designated to support the state’s park, recreation and open space projects. The Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreations gets 11 percent. Great Outdoors Colorado or GOCO is run by a board that awards grants for open-space projects, and gets up to half of the proceeds.

Finally, the Conservation Trust Fund gets just over 40 percent of the profits, and those monies are given to local governments based on population for decisions on local projects.

The Denver Post articles pointed to numerous communities where the Conservation Trust Fund money was used to pay for cell phone calls, office supplies or air conditioning.

But one county official says that the trust-fund money is carefully allocated in Pitkin County to purchase and maintain public land.

According to Brian Pettet of Pitkin County Public Works, the county receives between $60,000 to $65,000 each year from the Conservation Trust Fund, which is divided up into different programs. The Nordic Council, which maintains cross-country trails in the winter, receives a chunk of the fund each year, as does the open space and trails program and the weed program that works to eradicate noxious weeds in the county.

Pettet said that two years ago the county would settle on specific agencies to contribute the money toward, and the county agreed to provide funding for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop or the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf.

“But we found out that when it comes to bang for your buck, the county uses money as effectively as these groups, and also for a public purpose,” Pettet said. “We have our own needs.”

Programs like weed mitigation and the nordic and trail programs would suffer if it wasn’t for the funding from the Conservation Trust Fund, he said. Some residents don’t realize that once a piece of open space land is purchased, it takes money to maintain it, he said.

“It’s costly to eradicate a weed infestation, or to rehabilitate a habitat for animals on land that may have been misused through agriculture,” Pettet said.

“I think this county in many cases is geared more than most counties toward conservation of public lands and open space. People realize that 85 percent of this area is national forest, and we’re working to preserve the 15 percent we’re living in. The county has always been committed to that philosophy, and the knowledge that interspersed open space is important,” he said.

In Aspen, GOCO funds have been used to purchase the Moore Athletic Fields in 1996, and Pitkin County has used the money to purchase the Filoha Meadows Open Space in the Crystal River Valley just this year. In 1998, Snowmass Village used $20,000 from GOCO to come up with its Snowmass Village Park, Trails and Open Space master plan.

“We always use the money we get each year for specific projects,” said Jeff Woods, director of Aspen parks and recreation. “We report that to the state, because they have a clear requirement of that, and we don’t use it for operations at all.”

Woods said in 2002, the city received $57,959 from GOCO that was used for the construction of the Aspen Recreation Center. In 2000, the city used $141,000 from GOCO for smaller projects like the Rio Grande Skatepark and the Cozy Point Archery Range.

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