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No money to make money 

No joke. No gimmick. Just approximately $240 back for every dollar invested in 2011.

The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments sure knows how to stretch a dollar. So it seems surprising that the regional entity was turned down this budget season when it asked for a $50,000 to $100,000 increase in total dues from its members for 2012. That money could have brought $400,000 to $800,000 in regional grants for everything from transportation projects to services for at-risk seniors next year.

The PPACG currently collects $410,000 in annual dues from its 16 member governments in El Paso, Park and Teller counties, including the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County. Using leveraging techniques, that relatively small investment netted $99 million in grant funding last year. But the PPACG, which has a total annual budget of $5.7 million, misses out on hundreds of thousands in grants every year for lack of a match, which is why it asked for an increase in dues.

An original request for a $100,000 bump died in a tie vote of the board. Then board member and Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder suggested a $50,000 increase as a compromise. That passed in an initial 8-4 vote on Nov. 9, but died in a second vote on Dec. 14, after board members had been able to consider their respective budgets. Springs City Councilor Lisa Czelatdko, for instance, says she originally supported an increase, but voted against it on the second vote after getting negative feedback from the mayor's office and her Council colleagues.

Snyder says only he and Woodland Park Mayor Steve Randolph voted in favor of the increase the second time around.

"To me it was a just another nail in the coffin for this region," a disappointed Snyder says. "Another opportunity lost."

But the PPACG may have even bigger problems. During last week's city budget finale, Mayor Steve Bach's staff said he wanted sole power to eliminate the city's annual dues to the PPACG if, following a review, he found the $182,600 annual expenditure unwarranted. City Council summoned a super-majority to keep that line item within its purview, but even some Councilors have questioned whether PPACG membership is worth the money.

Too ambiguous

Asked about why she didn't support an increase for PPACG this year, board chair and County Commissioner Sallie Clark says the money to be gained was too ambiguous.

"We really didn't have specifics about what those [additional] projects might be," she says. "So I think there's just a little trepidation on the board."

PPACG executive director Robert MacDonald agrees that it's hard to say for sure how grants would have been used, or even how much money could have been gained. In general, he says, the funding would have been used for transportation projects, military impact planning, and senior services. He notes that the board "left the door open" by asking him to present requests for additional funding throughout the year if a particularly useful grant became available.

It's not an ideal situation, but MacDonald says the PPACG will be able to maintain its services at current levels.

"The board needs to weigh having dollars now versus having dollars for a future grant," he says.

Extra PPACG funding would have stressed some government budgets more than others, since PPACG dues are divvied up according to assessed valuations. Manitou Springs, for instance, pays $2,253 annually. Helping the PPACG realize an extra $50,000 next year would have bumped its contribution to $2,552. Colorado Springs, however would have needed to cough up an extra $22,097 to make that increase happen. El Paso County, which currently contributes $179,699, would have needed to foot an additional $21,729 bill.

The discrepancy in contributions, however, does not come into play when PPACG decides what projects to fund. Instead, the organization depends on board-approved criteria to choose priority projects. That means that big guys like the county and Colorado Springs won't always be first in line for grant money.

Snyder recalls the county's frustration last year when little Manitou and other governments were awarded a large enough share of projects to leave the county feeling slighted.

Getting the ax?

Based on the chatter in City Hall and from the mayor's office, it would be easy to conclude that the city's PPACG membership will soon find itself on the chopping block.

But a closer look suggests that it's unlikely the talk will turn into action. PPACG was formed over 40 years ago as a way for federal and state governments to fund at the local level without having to deal with every tiny town and county. Additionally, a regional entity was able to think more holistically, and benefit more people. Currently, the PPACG administers the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, the Regional Transportation Plan, the Regional Sustainability Plan, the Environmental Program, the Area Agency on Aging, and the area's Military Impact Planning.

That might be incentive enough to be a member. But MacDonald says there's another reason: Many of the federal and state grant dollars can only be accessed through a regional entity. That's why no government has dropped out the PPACG "in a very long time."

"If you don't pay your dues," he says, "you don't get access to large federal projects."

Clark says El Paso County sees the value of the PPACG.

Czelatdko isn't worried that the Springs will drop its membership. But she is concerned about public perception, which she says tends to fixate on the dollar amounts, rather than the long-term benefits, of expenditures.

"It's the way this community thinks about things ... very big spotlights on very small amounts," she says. "...People just can't keep their mind on the big picture."

stanley@csindy.com

  • City, county torpedo area governments' chance to multiply funds for 2012.

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