Conservation Corps funding spurs discussion
By Mark Reaman
As the Crested Butte budget gets tighter since town is dipping into reserves for big projects, the town community grants are causing more discussion for the Crested Butte Town Council. The spring grants were awarded last month and the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC) was awarded about half of the money allocated for spring, and the council discussed at length how much and for how long it 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 for the year, the Town Council allocated $29,625, $8,625 more than budgeted. The CBCC received $15,000 from a $25,000 request.
The community grant subcommittee, comprised of council members Laura Mitchell and Paul Merck along with town finance director Rob Zillioux, made the recommendations but included some discussion items for the council. They wanted to discuss what the town’s obligation was, if any, for providing ongoing operational funds for requesting organizations.
“The committee discussed at length the Town’s obligation to the CBCC operating funds,” a memo from town staff 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 organization. “Two years ago when [CBCC] first came to the town there was a real problem in the backcountry and we fully funded them,” she 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 the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, or 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 [the Conservation Corps’] operating costs. We have a lot of expenditures like the public lands acquisition of the Kikel property. 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 TAPP and Mt. Crested Butte have committed $20,000 to funding the CBCC. “Mt. Crested Butte made us a line item in their annual budget,” Daniels 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 STOR (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation) committee is “Working hard to create the Gunnison Stewardship Fund in conjunction with the National Forest Foundation.” She said the general goal is to create a sustainable source of funds for such groups 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 said 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 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. I’d like to see us support all the 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.