County council splits on district funding priorities
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Nov 14, 2013 | 2252 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Grand County School District didn’t ask the county council for a 20 percent increase in federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) money, but it will get it all the same.

Under the county’s funding allocations for the 2014 calendar year, the district will receive half of all PILT monies, which compensate local communities where tax-exempt federal agencies own large tracts of land.

The council’s Nov. 6 vote to divvy up PILT money and other county-administered funds was far from unanimous. Council members Elizabeth Tubbs and Patricia Holyoak joined Ken Ballantyne and Lynn Jackson to support the allocations, while Gene Ciarus, Jim Nyland and Rory Paxman opposed them.

Jackson, who made the motion to approve the distributions, said he thinks the council can help keep residents’ property taxes down by giving more PILT funding to the school district.

Ciarus, on the other hand, said he doesn’t believe that the county should be subsidizing the district’s schools. The school district competes for the same money that the county goes after, and it gets a lot more, he said.

It would be more beneficial, he said, to put the PILT money into a special service district fund.

“We have totally ignored the needs of the county by what we just went through,” Ciarus said immediately after the council’s vote.

Jackson did not respond directly to those remarks. But in the minutes leading up to the council’s vote, he said that elected leaders have a responsibility to examine all of the services that the county provides, and then spread the funding around.

Although the county and the school district are two separate government entities, the district is eligible for any PILT money that the county receives.

During the last school year, the county gave the district 30 percent of that funding, or just over $86,677, according to a memo from Grand County School Superintendent Scott Crane.

This year, Crane asked the council for the same percentage. Instead, the district received the unexpected windfall, which will enable it to buy more materials and supplies, while keeping class sizes at “reasonable” levels.

The remaining half of next year’s PILT funding will go to the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District.

In addition, the health care district will receive two-thirds of the county’s mineral lease money; the remaining one-third was diverted to the Grand County Transportation Special Service District.

2013 turned out to be a windfall year in terms of mineral lease funding to the health care district. In the first 10 months of the year, it received an estimated $775,463, according to a spreadsheet presented by Grand County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon.

“Nobody in their wildest imagination would dream that mineral lease money came in like it did this year,” Ballantyne said.

That’s been good news for the district-administered Canyonlands Care Center, which is struggling to overcome numerous financial challenges, including construction bond-related debt.

However, mineral lease payments vary from one year to the next, and care center representatives asked council members to keep that in mind as they prepared to allocate that money.

At this point, the facility’s operating expenses for 2013 appear to be on budget, and its revenues for the year may actually surpass the budgeted amount, according to a memo from care center accountant Tom Lacy.

Chances are that next year’s results may be even better, Lacy wrote. But it’s impossible to say that for sure, so a conservative approach would dictate that its cash needs for 2014 should remain at current-year levels of about $925,000, he wrote.

Jackson initially made a motion to give the health care district an additional 10 percent from a separate mineral bonus account. (In 2013, the same percentage totaled $58,143, according to a county spreadsheet.)

But as amended by Ballantyne, the council’s final motion diverted that percentage to the solid waste district, while the remaining 90 percent of mineral bonus money was allocated to the Grand County Recreation Special Service District. (To put that percentage in perspective, the recreation district’s share of mineral bonus money totaled an estimated $519,849 in 2013.)

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