Den­ver & the West.

The state found no in­stances of mis­used funds, but the agency can list grants bet­ter.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Blevins

A state au­dit con­cludes no mis­use of funds at GOCO but finds $45 mil­lion in mis­cat­e­go­rized grants and un­equal sup­port for out­door recre­ation.

An in­ten­sive state au­dit that Great Out­doors Colorado ini­tially op­posed has found no in­stances of in­ap­pro­pri­ate spend­ing by the lot­tery-sup­ported trust that has sup­ported 4,900 projects with grants to­tal­ing $1.1 bil­lion since 1993.

But Colorado State Au­di­tor Dianne Ray, who had to sue GOCO to con­duct the rig­or­ous per­for­mance au­dit, did find that GOCO could do a bet­ter job of cat­e­go­riz­ing grants in or­der to en­sure that all four of its con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated fund­ing mis­sions re­ceive equal sup­port.

GOCO was cre­ated to di­rect “sub­stan­tially equal” sums into four ar­eas: open space, lo­cal gov­ern­ment, out­door recre­ation and wildlife. Colorado Parks and Wildlife han­dles GOCO’s out­door recre­ation and wildlife fund­ing. Some­times, for big projects like build­ing por­tions of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide Trail, the GOCO board pulls from all four fund­ing buckets.

Ray, who stud­ied a sam­pling of 87 GOCO grant projects from 1994 through 2016 and 10 Colorado Parks and Wildlife projects be­tween 2012 and 2016, iden­ti­fied $45 mil­lion in grants that did not align with those four buckets.

“Be­cause GOCO lacks a clear and con­sis­tent method for cat­e­go­riz­ing grant spend­ing and en­sur­ing that its cat­e­go­riza­tions align with con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments, its track­ing of grant spend­ing may mis­p­re­sent whether GOCO is dis­tribut­ing money evenly across the four fund­ing pur­poses, as re­quired,” the au­dit reads.

Ray also found that Colorado Parks and Wildlife av­er­ages about 4.4 years to plan and com­plete new GOCO-funded projects. She sug­gested that the agency could trim that project time­line to bet­ter man­age the op­er­at­ing costs of GOCO projects.

The au­dit noted that many GOCO grants “could rea­son­ably be cat­e­go­rized un­der mul­ti­ple pur­poses.” For ex­am­ple, trail project ex­penses were ranked un­der lo­cal gov­ern­ment, open space and out­door recre­ation. Funds for an or­ga­ni­za­tion study­ing im­per­iled wildlife, habi­tat and open space were cat­e­go­rized as grants for lo­cal gov­ern­ment, open space and recre­ation.

The au­dit also found that GOCO fun­neled less money into out­door recre­ation than the other three ar­eas — about $24 mil­lion less than the next low­est fund­ing mis­sion, wildlife.

The Colorado Con­sti­tu­tion gives GOCO’s board a lot of lee­way on cre­at­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions for grant dis­tri­bu­tion.

“The way the con­sti­tu­tion is writ­ten they have re­ally broad au­thor­ity so we didn’t feel any grants were out­side what the con-

sti­tu­tion would al­low,” au­dit man­ager Trey Stan­d­ley said.

The au­dit found a lack of poli­cies and pro­ce­dures con­trib­uted to the cat­e­go­riza­tion prob­lems. The GOCO board re­sponded by com­mit­ting to ad­dress all the au­di­tors con­cerns by mod­i­fy­ing poli­cies “to pro­vide in­creased clar­ity” by July 2018.

GOCO di­rec­tor Chris Castil­ian said his team spent “a re­ally pro­duc­tive few months” with the au- di­tor.

“We are proud of what we have done and we are sat­is­fied with the out­come,” Castil­ian said, not­ing that com­pet­i­tive bid pro­pos­als for lo­cal gov­ern­ments and open space are vet­ted through a 10-step re­view process to en­sure grants are “open, com­pet­i­tive, ob­jec­tive and very public.”

Pend­ing changes to how GOCO cat­e­go­rizes its grants, he said, “will prove the math in­stead of just show­ing the an­swer.”

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