Funding remains concern in Parks-Wildlife merger
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved a 250-page Merger Implementation Plan for the combined agencies Thursday, amid surprisingly little anxiety or objection.
In fact, it appears the merger of the two state agencies, which was approved by legislation that passed easily last year and was officially begun last July, has gone more smoothly than many observers anticipated, including The Daily Sentinel.
But one critical area of concern is only partially addressed in the merger plan. Exactly how it is dealt with will be determined over coming months.
That issue involves the potential comingling of funds between what used to be the Division of Parks and the Division of Wildlife, when much of their funding can only be spent for specific uses under federal or state law and the Colorado Constitution.
For instance, the wildlife agency receives federal money from the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funds, and that money can only be used for specified wildlife-related projects. Both agencies have also received money from the Colorado Lottery and Great Outdoors Colorado that also must be used in the manner they are directed.
Stakeholders in both groups, but especially wildlife organizations, spoke out last year about the problems that could be created — including a possible requirement to repay the federal money — if the funds were comingled and used improperly.
The Parks and Wildlife Commission, formed from the two separate citizens commissions that used to oversee each agency, has recognized the potential problem of comingled funds. In the lengthy Merger Implementation Plan, it says: “Maintaining appropriate segregation of and adequately accounting for the use of these different funds will be paramount to the success of the merger.”
Details on how that segregation will be accomplished have, however, yet to be established.
“Separately, a technical work group has been formed to address the fund segregation and accounting issues inherent in implementing the recommendations of the work groups and the Transition Team,” the merger plan says. “That work group will identify the precise mechanisms that will be put in place across a range of different circumstances to insure proper segregation and accounting of funds.”
That’s fine, but care must be taken as other recommendations in the plan are implemented to share financial services and accounting functions.
That concern aside, it appears the two now-combined commissions and the staff of the two agencies — with input from stakeholder groups — have crafted a reasonable plan to merge the two agencies and save state money.