Conservation Corps funding causes discussion
By Mark Reaman
As the town’s budget gets tighter, community grants are causing more discussion among the Crested Butte Town Council members. Spring grants were awarded Monday, April 15 and the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC) was awarded about half of the money allocated, spurring council discussion over how much and for how long the town will fund the CBCC and operating expenses for any group.
With $21,000 remaining for Crested Butte community spring grants out of a total $52,500 pool budgeted for the year, the Town Council on Monday allocated $29,625 or $8,625 more than budgeted. The CBCC received $15,000 of that from a $25,000 request.
The community grant subcommittee, comprised of council members Laura Mitchell and Paul Merck and town finance director Rob Zillioux, made the recommendation to fund seven organizations but included some discussion items for the council. They wanted to discuss what the town’s obligation was for providing ongoing operational funds for requesting organizations.
“The committee discussed at length the Town’s obligation, if any to the CBCC operating funds,” a memo to council noted. “Council has granted CBMBA [Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association]/CBCC $48,000 over the last two years. Related, what should the National Forest Service, etc. obligation be?”
Mitchell reminded the council of how much the town has given to the local mountain bike organization. “Two years ago when they first came to the town there was a real problem in the backcountry and we funded them more than $20,000,” Mitchell said. “They keep coming back for money. We had hoped they would be able to raise more funds on their own by now. They need to lean on the county or the TA [now TAPP] for some more of their funding and not blow up our grant budget. We want them to become more self-sufficient.”
“On one hand, I agree,” said councilman Will Dujardin. “We don’t want to be always paying for their operating costs. But we can’t just pull the rug out from under them. That is something to address in the longer run. I am okay with the $15,000 recommendation.”
“The Conservation Corps is one of the most effective organizations we have had in the valley since I’ve been here,” said mayor Jim Schmidt. “You can see what they have done and they have been outstanding. One economic driver of our town is backcountry recreation and they help with that tremendously.”
CBMBA deputy director Laura Puckett Daniels said the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) and Mt. Crested Butte have committed $20,000 to funding the CBCC in 2019. “Mt. Crested Butte made us a line item in their annual budget,” she informed the council. “They felt the CBCC is an investment in their economic infrastructure.”
Daniels said the county commissioners have not contributed funds for the CBCC but the county’s STOR (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation) committee is working hard with the National Forest Foundation to establish a Gunnison Stewardship Fund. She said the general idea was to create a sustainable source of funds for such groups that address backcountry issues through the stewardship fund.
“From our perspective, trails are used by most residents here, along with tourists and people not living in town. We would like to see our community continue to fund this. The uses of the backcountry will continue to increase and trails don’t maintain themselves,” Daniels said. “Maintenance is critical to the trail network. Everyone benefits, whether you live in town or not.”
Councilman Jackson Petito suggested the town should consider doing the same as Mt. Crested Butte and making the annual donation to the Conservation Corps a regular line item in the yearly budget.
Mitchell said the topic could use further discussion and since two council members, Paul Merck and Chris Haver, were not at the April 15 meeting, the discussion about the CBCC should continue.
“For the moment, considering the squeeze we’ve put ourselves in, but it’s only $8,600 over the budget, I’m okay with the $15,000 contribution to the CBCC,” said Dujardin. “I’d like to see us support all the grant applicants but there is a financial reality.”
The council approved the recommendation to spend the additional money for the spring grants but agreed that further discussion about the grants in general, and the CBCC in particular, will need to take place sometime in the future.