Concerns over natural gas grant funds usage raised

Leaders of Western Slope communities at the epicenter of the region’s natural gas boom are concerned about the governor’s plan to use $30 million worth of energy-impact grant funds to help confront Colorado’s $600 million budget shortfall.

“A lot of the governmental entities in my district rely on those grants to build infrastructure for them, whether it’s a water plant or sewer line,” said Sen. Al White, R-Hayden. “Those grants help us immensely in western Colorado.”

The governor’s plan, unveiled earlier this month, would take $30 million over the course of this year and next year from the Department of Local Affairs’ share of severance taxes, revenues collected on oil and gas drilled in Colorado.

The grant funds help cities and counties confront the stresses that energy industry workers and traffic put on their roads and other infrastructure.

Parachute Mayor Roy McClung said it is disappointing that the governor’s choice will force the Western Slope to absorb even more of the costs of infrastructure repairs and improvements during the current recession.

“Towns like Parachute, where we don’t have a lot of income anyway, we rely pretty heavily on that grant fund to accomplish some of the bigger projects we need to accomplish,” McClung said.

Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons said the grants are “absolutely critical to us,” and shrinking the size of the grant pool means more communities might have to go without funding for critical projects.

Parsons said, for example, if Rio Blanco County does not receive some grant funds to complete $2 million worth of repairs on County Road 4, it could become a $20 million problem.

Though Western Slope leaders are upset with the governor’s choice to dip into energy revenues, some said they understood the governor’s decision.

“I guess I look at it as we are certainly in an economic crisis in this state and the nation as a whole,” Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said. “We’re pinching pennies everywhere we can.”

The first half of the proposed diversion, $15 million, totals less than 3 percent of the estimated $600 million the state must cut from its budget this fiscal year.

“They tried to really spread the pain across the agencies,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison.


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