Commissioner not happy with energy group accounting |

Commissioner not happy with energy group accounting

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

At least one of Garfield County’s three commissioners is somewhat unhappy about the way an alternative-energy advocacy organization has been keeping track of its budget.

Commissioner Mike Samson said the accounting needs to “follow accepted principles.”

To remedy whatever problems there might be with accounting at the Garfield Clean Energy group, the Board of County Commissioners this week designated Jim Hackett of the county’s purchasing department to keep track of things and report back to the commissioners every month.

But the executive director of GCE, which used to be known as Garfield New Energy Community Initiatives, or GNECI, said the confusion about accounting is merely a misunderstanding that will soon be worked out.

The GCE organization is a partnership among local governments, using state and federal funding for programs aimed at reducing energy use by making buildings more efficient and installing alternative energy technology.

All of the partners, which include cities and towns, school districts, the county and others, are expected to contribute funding to keep the program in business, as well as benefiting from the various initiatives.

The effort has led to 12 projects involving government facilities and 16 involving area schools, made more than 7,600 improvements to local homes, and more, according to a recently released “progress report” on the past two years’ work.

The organization was formed with a $1.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs in 2008, and has garnered other funding as it has matured.

On Dec. 20, representatives of GCE were at the commissioners meeting to request the release of the final $150,000 of that original grant, as GCE works to become a self-sustaining organization.

The money, said GCE executive director Alice Laird, is to be split between different aspects of the operation, including $95,000 for administration, maintenance of the GCE website, marketing of its programs, writing grant applications and other functions.

The remaining $55,000, she said, is for the ongoing transportation program, which is aimed at decreasing fuel use in government and the private sector by converting local fleets to natural gas and promoting alternative transportation modes such as bike riding, walking and taking the bus.

“It is inherently confusing because there are multiple funding streams,” conceded Laird, not to mention differences in how a nonprofit energy efficiency group and a county bureaucracy view certain specialized aspects of the world of accounting.

Hackett, at the direction of county manager Ed Green, told the commissioners on Dec. 20 that he was unable to track which part of the GCE funding was going for administration and which part was going for programs that actually improved the energy efficiency of local homes, businesses or government buildings.

Plus, he said, he was unable to determine how much of the administrative cost burden of GCE was being paid by Garfield County, and how much was being paid by its other “partners” in the energy efficiency effort.

He was concerned, he told the commissioners, that “Garfield County’s share has slowly creeped up.”

When Commissioner Tresi Houpt objected to what she perceived as unfair criticism of GCE, Hackett declared, “There is not criticism intended in the analysis,” and that he simply wants to understand how the money is being used.

“I am a little concerned about what I’m hearing,” said Samson, noting that while the county has contributed significantly to GNECI/GCE over its two-year history, “You’ve got to wean yourself from us.” He conceded that GCE is doing so, but said that because of the accounting, it is “not as clear as it needs to be.”

Houpt noted that Green and other county staffers have been working with GNECI/GCE since its inception, and understand the issues better than Hackett. Laird noted that Hackett had not attended a crucial meeting earlier in December at which administrative and other costs were discussed.

Laird apologized to Hackett regarding any misunderstandings, and the commissioners assigned him to join the GCE board as the county’s liaison and report back to the commissioners on a monthly basis about the organization’s activities.

The board, by a vote of 2-1, approved the $150,000 disbursement, but instructed Laird to seek funding from the other partners in order to reduce Garfield County’s share of the administrative costs.

Commissioner John Martin dissented, arguing that the money involved is “federal money with all the strings attached,” a source of funds that he often objects to in county affairs.

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