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