In an effort to protect Chaffee County rural and agricultural areas, plus state and federal open space lands, which account for almost 80 percent of the county, Chaffee County commissioners and the community group Envision Chaffee County established Chaffee Common Ground.
The Common Ground Board was created by resolution in 2019 after voters passed 1A in November of 2018, increasing the countywide sales tax by .25 percent. Common Ground serves as a recommendation board to the county commissioners regarding the expenditures of the 1A tax.
The resolution designated that the tax funds collected will be spent in the following manner.
• Strengthening forest health – 25 percent
• Conserving and supporting working ranches, farms and rural landscapes – 25 percent
• Managing the impact of growth – 5 percent
The remaining 45 percent will be set aside to allocate to one of the three categories listed above, as suggested by the Common Ground Board, with up to 5 percent spend on administration of the funding board.
The board then recommends how to the county commissioners how the money should be spent, as grants, to local programs.
Assisting the board are a series of subject matter expert boards, to advise on their particular speciality.
The seven members of the board are:
• Chairwoman Cindy Williams, co-lead of Envision Chaffee County.
• Vice-chair Rick Hum, former deputy director for Great Outdoors Colorado.
• Secretary Patti Arthur, local attorney with 30 years experience in nonprofit and tax-exempt entities.
• Michael Hannigan, former CEO of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and former interim executive director of Chaffee County Community Foundation.
• Ben Lenth, expert in land conservation with Colorado Open Lands and former executive director of the San Isabel Land Protection Trust.
• Brinkley Messick, outdoor recreation and conservationist, volunteer with Outdoors Colorado and Colorado Mountain Club.
• Andrew Richardson, fifth-generation Colorado rancher and former president of the Chaffee County Cattleman’s Association and Farm Bureau Chaffee County Mid-Mountain District.
• Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt, liaison between county and Citizens Advisory Committee, co-lead of Envision Chaffee County.
Since their foundation, the board has built their grant application process and rating matrix.
“They’ve done an awful lot of work in the year and a half they’ve had to pull that work together,” Felt said.
In 2019 Common Ground invested $673,599 of the 1A tax in five nonprofit groups and a nonprofit/land agency partnership to fund eight different projects and programs.
They also had $1,140,230 flagged for multi-year and future-year grant requests.
In the board’s annual report for 2019, Felt wrote that with the first round of funding they were able to leverage grants and other support with a 7-to-1 ratio.
“In other words,” Felt wrote in the report, “the approximately $1 million in revenue generated in 2019 is being matched by about $7 million in grants and other funding.”
For the 2020 spring grant cycle, Felt said one of the areas they have focused on has been promoting healthy forests, through two programs in particular, Chaffee Chips and developing a fire break for the Methodist Mountain area.
Chaffee Chips provides professional assistance to local landowers to implement wildfire protection.
The Methodist Front Wildland Urban Interface Forest and Watershed Health Restoration Project received $341,545 to, among other things, create a five-mile-long fuel break to protect Salida and Poncha Springs, running across Methodist Mountain from about CR 105 to U.S. 285 at Poncha Pass.
“Investments last year had a strong agricultural focus due to timely opportunities to protect rural landscapes through conservation easements,” Williams stated in a press release. “This time, excellent forest health and wildfire protection opportunities ranked very well, providing a balance in investments over time as promised.”