Who is DOLA and what do they do?

RBC I It is nearly impossible to attend a meeting of any of the local taxing districts and not hear the phrase “DOLA grant” mentioned. It seems everyone is putting in for funds from the Department of Local Affairs and hoping to help move projects along with their help. But what really is DOLA money and what are these funds for?

The Department of Local Affairs, or DOLA, works with local governments across the state to provide assistance with property taxation including assessment appeals, housing, disaster relief, community planning and what is most commonly referenced in local meetings; providing state and federal funding for a wide variety of projects.

Majority of the DOLA funding received locally comes from taxes levied on the extraction industry. The energy impact assistance fund stated goal is to, “assist political subdivisions that are socially and/or economically impacted by the development, processing, or energy conversion of minerals and mineral fuels,” with funding for these grants coming from the Colorado severance tax. The direct distribution funds similarly come from severance tax and federal mineral lease money.

The decision to award grant applications is made by a 12 member committee appointed by the DOLA executive director. The committee includes the executive directors of various public departments including the departments of transportation, natural resources, public health and environment, and the commissioner of education. There are also a handful of town or county representatives and one business owner who sit on the committee. They meet four times annually to award the grant funds.

The bulk of DOLA’s remaining grants are primarily focused on reimbursement for a variety of activities such as search and rescue and marijuana impact and enforcement. They also award grants for park and recreation services through their conservation fund and a variety of community development activities. In addition DOLA oversees the Main Street Program, a program designed to help communities revitalize their downtown areas. Both Rangely and Meeker are participants in the program.

Meeker Town Manager Scott Meszaros said that they strategically apply for grants for necessary projects. “If you chase the grant dollars too much, you may be denied. So we leverage large, necessary projects,” he said. He pointed out that the grants also require some additional reporting as well as audits if they are larger than $500,000.

Recently Meeker has used DOLA funds for the hospital utility expansion project where the town, county and hospital district pooled applications and were funded $1 million of the $5 million project. Additionally the water system and electrical power upgrades received about $400,000, or 50 percent of the project, in DOLA funding.

Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius described DOLA as, “one of the most active support agencies for the Town of Rangely.” He said that since 2012 Rangely has has received more than $3.7 million in grant funding through DOLA’s energy impact assistance fund. “Communities that rank high with regard to their energy impactedness, such as Rangely, are generally very successful with their grant proposals and especially those directed towards infrastructure improvement projects like water distribution and waste water collections improvements. We have received grants from a number of sources over the years, but DOLA energy impact assistance grants are by far the most efficient generators of improvement in our community,” he said.

Brixius has been with the town for more than 10 years and says that in that time period the grants have changed some.  “The amount of town match has increased with each grant over the years and today most grants are a 50/50 match requirement, meaning DOLA will often fund 50 percent of the project. During the early years of my tenure with the town, the grant matches could run as high as 70 to 80 percent of the project,” he said.

Since 2012 DOLA has provided grant funds for Rangely projects such as the water treatment plant improvement and waste water treatment plant compliance project, the new river pump station and intake structure improvements, Town Hall renovations,  multiple annual water distribution and sewer collections system improvements with some total street construction improvements and utilities building construction.

In additional to the funding Brixius said that DOLA has helped facilitate planning forums and produced demographic information to support grant and planning activities.

In 2016 DOLA provided a total of $7.31 million to Rio Blanco County with just over $4 million in direct distribution money, $3.16 million from the energy impact assistance fund, $73,660 from the conservation trust fund and just over $34,000 from the volunteer firefighter pension fund. Rio Blanco County currently ranks third in direct distribution funds, receiving more than $52 million since July 2008, following only Garfield ($84.3 million) and Weld ($73.3 million) counties.