An effort by state legislators to redistribute lottery funds for conservation grants, and put them toward veterans’ programs, has drawn concern from local open space officials.
The Pitkin County open space department will ask the county commissioners to pass a resolution opposing the veterans initiative next week.
“I don’t believe it’s the solution to the problem, to take funds away from something that is working,” said Barb D’Autrechy, county open space acquisition manager.
State Sen. Suzanne Williams of Aurora and others are gathering support in the legislature to create a new scratch-off lottery ticket to fund additional aid for Colorado veterans and amend allocations of lottery funds. Changing the distribution of lottery proceeds would mean changing the Colorado Constitution, which requires a statewide vote.
Supporters are hoping to place the issue on the statewide November ballot.
Voters have previously supported the parks- and conservation-centric funding model, which supports grants for open space purchases, trail projects and wildlife protection.
Conservationists do not wish to be pitted against veterans in competition for state funds, said Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT).
“We do need to take care of our veterans,” she said. “The question is how? Do we need to divert money from one worthy cause for another very worthy cause?”
With the state in a budget crunch, she said, conservationists are concerned legislators may seek to syphon off their lottery funds to a growing slate of under-funded areas.
County Commissioner George Newman agreed, and said he would support a resolution to keep the allocations as they are in the constitution.
“The state is going to continue to look for ways to address their budget shortages,” Newman said. “But voters approved these funds specifically for open space and parks and I support keeping it that way.”
He added that access to parks and open space are important amenities for veterans, along with Coloradans and tourists.
Needs for veterans — and schools and roads — around the state are evident, Newman said. But redirecting a chunk of money through scratch tickets, he said, is shortsighted and won’t solve the state’s budget woes.
“They have to come up with a longer-term solution,” he said.
Much of the lottery cash currently goes to the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) fund. Since 1994 GOCO has funneled more than $10 million into Pitkin County open space projects. GOCO grants constitute 1 out of every 8 cents spent by the property tax-funded county open space fund annually, according to D’Autrechy.
GOCO’s $2.5 million grant for the purchase of the Droste property — now known as Sky Mountain Park — in 2010, has been credited as a vital part of that landmark acquisition. Its total price was $17 million, with Pitkin County, the town of Snowmass Village, the city of Aspen and AVLT paying the rest.
This spring, the county has applied for a $600,000 GOCO grant to fund the purchase and conservation of a 145-acre plot in Eagle County.
Statewide last year, GOCO distributed $56.1 million in grants. Pitkin County has been among its largest beneficiaries. The fund has also provided matching funds for AVLT and funded projects by the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers.
Dick Merritt, a Marine Corps veteran who works as a ski instructor in Aspen, said he was not aware of the state effort but that the need for more resources for veterans’ is woefully evident in places like the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, in Rifle.
“I’ve visited there, they definitely do need more funding,” he said.
Currently, 23.5 percent of lottery proceeds go toward outdoors initiatives. Half of that goes to GOCO, 40 percent of it to the state Conservation Trust Fund and 10 percent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (formerly known as the Colorado Division of Wildlife).
The Pitkin County commissioners are expected to take up the issue on Wednesday, April 11.
“We are going to ask the [commissioners] to approve a resolution supporting the current distribution of lottery funds,” D’Autrechy said.