Mesa County trying to recoup federal funds

The Mesa County Commission opted to recraft its mineral leasing district Monday under new rules devised by the Colorado Legislature.

The 2–1 majority that approved the changes framed the decision as one aimed at discouraging the U.S. Department of the Interior from reducing one pot of federal money by the amount the county gets from another federal source.

Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland voted in favor of the change with Commissioner Steve Acquafresca opposed.

The commission last year broke the same way, with Acquafresca opposing a plan supported by Meis and Rowland,  under which the county’s share of federal mineral lease money would be administered by a board appointed by the county.

Interior Department officials last year said in an unofficial finding that the approach used by Mesa County established a board that was insufficiently independent of the county. As a result, the department reduced the county share of payments in lieu of property taxes on federal land by $1.6 million — the amount of money the county received from the federal mineral leases.

All three commissioners maintain that the two pots of money have nothing to do with each other. They split on how to prevent the deduction from happening.

The county is appealing the loss of $1.6 million in reduced payments in lieu of taxes last year, and Meis said it will appeal the loss of the same amount this year.

Last year, the Mesa County Mineral Lease District devoted its $1.6 million to Colorado Mesa University for the establishment of a program for the development of unconventional energy. 

Acquafresca advocated using a provision of the law that would allow the county to reach agreements with other governments that would show greater independence from the county.

The path chosen by the majority has resulted in the loss of a cumulative $3.2 million so far, Acquafresca said. Meis and Rowland maintain that their approach gives the county a “fighting chance” to keep the mineral lease money and win a full payment in lieu of taxes.


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