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The resource advisory committee covering the Rocky Mountain region for the Secure Rural Schools program is being restructured. The Greater Rocky Mountain RAC in the Rocky Mountain Region will be created by consolidating the Saguache-Upper Rio Grande, Rocky Mountain and San Juan RACs.

Chaffee County received more than $250,000 from the program this year. County funding will not be impacted by the restructure.

“85 percent of that goes to the different school districts and that is just based on student count,” said Dane DeVoy, staff accountant for the county.

Buena Vista school district superintendent Lisa Yates said the funds are typically used to purchase curricula or training.

The need for federal approval and variance in amounts disbursed create enough uncertainty that the funds are treated as one-time payments, she said.

Salida schools superintendent Blackburn said the funds are handled the same way in his district.

Funds which aren’t sent to schools are used for special projects on federal lands and county projects.

“The state basically withholds 8 percent that they use for other projects. And then we get around 7 percent,” said DeVoy. “That goes into our forest health fund, and then we turn around and give that money to CSU and the U.S. Forest Service and then they distribute those funds to Chaffee County residents that approve fire mitigation on their property.”

SRS was discussed at a recent conference of the National Association of Counties’ Western Interstate Region that county commissioner Keith Baker attended. Along with Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT), SRS helps secure federal funds for rural counties around the nation.

Chaffee County, like many rural counties, has a great deal of federal land. This reduces the tax base that other more developed lands generate for roads and schools. SRS and PILT are federal programs intended to compensate for the loss of funds.

The new RAC is being chartered to handle the portion of funds for special projects on federal lands. No special projects have been pursued recently under the SRS program.

“The Rocky Mountain RAC was intended to serve in place of its former name, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison RAC. Existing GMUG RAC members were brought forward to the Rocky Mountain RAC. The intent of the Rocky Mountain RAC was to serve all or most counties in the region that did not have a RAC,” said USFS regional press officer Donna Nemeth.

“The charter and operation of the Rocky Mountain RAC was not approved or finalized in Washington, so no recommendations or meetings occurred. The Rocky Mountain RAC membership expired. The Greater Rocky Mountain RAC is a reboot of the Rocky Mountain RAC, with the intent to merge existing or recently expired RACs and also to capture the remaining counties in the Rocky Mountain Region that do not currently have a RAC,” she explained.

More information on the program is available at fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/secure-rural-schools

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