Colorado’s 27-year-old grant program for parks and open space was performing well, the state’s Legislative Audit Committee was told Monday.
"They operate — this is my opinion — very effectively and efficiently on a small staff,” Kimberley Higgins said of Great Outdoors Colorado. Higgins’s firm, Eide Bailly, LLP, was contracted to do a financial and performance audit.
Colorado voters approved the creation of GOCO via Amendment 8 in the 1992 election. The intent was to set aside lottery funds for the preservation of wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open space.
By law, last year GOCO had $68.5 million to disburse. Lottery proceeds above that amount go to school construction.
Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said that she wanted to know how much money went to urban communities like hers for recreation.
"There isn't anything in the constitution that says we have to allocate our revenues towards rural versus urban, but when you look at the data, it breaks out almost 50-50,” executive director Chris Castilian responded. “Communities come in and say, ‘These are the projects we want you to help us fund.’ We're not really dictating how these funding opportunities come to us."
He added that equity was a priority for GOCO’s board of directors.
Fields asked whether some smaller communities may not have the capacity to submit applications and are therefore missing out on grant money.
“We offer planning grants to those communities, particularly those smaller communities that you've articulated, if they're having a difficulty getting in the door,” Castillian said. “We don't want any barriers to accessing GOCO money. And if they're unsuccessful, we will sit down with them and put together a grant application."
Since its inception, GOCO reports funding over 5,200 projects in all 64 counties, conserving 1.2 million acres — including 47,000 in the state parks system.
Lawmakers also reviewed an audit of the state’s lottery, which voters approved in 1980. One hundred fourteen employees work for the lottery in the Pueblo headquarters and other state offices.
Fiscal year 2019 had a record number of ticket sales at $675 million, an increase of $68 over the prior year. Prize expenses totaled $417 million, and profits from ticket sales were $196 million.