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WOOD PROGRAM FUNDING 8-11-14 LMS

Questions were raised at the August 11 meeting of the Lemhi County Commissioners about the county’s fire wood program and the county maintenance on Williams Creek Road.

Dan Cominotti said he does not think the road maintenance is being done correctly. He said that the road in its present condition is dangerous and the posted speed limits are too high.

The commissioners first explained it is not a county road and that it belongs to the Forest Service. The county has a blade and grade maintenance agreement with the Forest Service and it is up to the Forest Service to select and supply the road surface materials

Weather has a lot to do with the blading and grading since the best results can only be produced when the road is damp from rain. County Road and Bridge also has to have good materials to get good results and a recent load of surface material was not very high quality. Commissioner Chairman Bob Cope said the county does the best it can, which most of the time is more than required in the maintenance agreement, but the fact remains it isn’t a county road.

Cominotti said the road was not rolled. Commissioner John Jakovac commented that the road was rolled but didn’t appear to be because of the materials supplied by the agency. Commissioner Rick Snyder told Cominotti he is not the first to complain about the road and that the county will continue to monitor its condition and do what it can.

Cominotti also said that the 35 mile per hour speed limit is too fast for even the best road conditions. The commissioners said that earlier that morning Kim Thomas of the Road and Bridge Department was asked to see if the department has any ‘rough road’ signs it could install on the Williams Creek Road.

The program which supplies fire wood to eligible low income county residents was another issue brought forward by Cominotti. In addition to the commissioners others there to answer questions were Social Services Director Sue Dickens, Amy Baumer, Secretary of the Regional Advisory Council Board (RAC) and Clerk of the Court Terri Morton.

Cominotti wanted to know why people were not able to get fire wood from the county last year when the county had been paid to provide it. Dickens and Baumer verified that although $35,000 in RAC funds were approved for the program last year, due to problems in communication the county was not officially informed it needed to submit paperwork to obtain the allocation therefore, the money was never received and was not reflected in the 2014 budget. County Clerk Terri Morton said that since the money did not become obligated it went back to the Forest Service. She said it must be remembered that RAC funds are allocated on a year to year basis and there is no guarantee Congress will authorize them.

Baumer confirmed that in June a fund totaling $35,000 was approved for the fuel wood program and work is underway to obligate the money for this year. She said Dickens has submitted the proper paperwork to the grants and agreements personnel in Idaho Falls and it should be tied up by September 30. She added the funds may or may not be there next year.

Earlier in the meeting the Commissioners held a public hearing to officially open the fiscal year 2014 budget to make some needed changes. One of the changes authorized a $20,000 fuel wood program expenditure just in case the Forest Service RAC money process is completed by September 1st. In that event authorization now exists in the budget to spend some of the $35,000 in RAC funds before the end of this fiscal year. If it doesn’t come in before September 30, the entire $35,000 will be placed in the 2014-15 county budget.

Cope related the history of RAC funding. He said, “It used to be, ten or 12 years ago, that those RAC monies were allocated to the various forests. The [forest] supervisor had direct access to it so when the RAC approved it (I was the chair in those days) I’d sign off on it…the supervisor would sign off on it, the money was released and we’re good.” Cope said then the agency, in the name of efficiency, took over the accounting from each forest and placed it all under the control of the Albuquerque Forest Service office. He said, “It’s been an absolute disaster ever since. So now, when the RAC approves these projects, instead of having the chair and the supervisor sign off on it, that request goes to the Regional Office where a lady in Idaho Falls reviews it all.” In Cope’s opinion that means dotting all the t’s and crossing all the i’s. He continued, “Then she puts in her request to Albuquerque which communicates back to her, who hopefully communicates back to the local office, who then gets hold of Sue.” He said the chain is an absolute debacle compared to what it was ten years ago but it is the system under which people now have to function.

In answer to Cominotti’s question of where last year’s money went he was told by Cope it stayed in Albuquerque and eventually went back into the Forest Service general budget where it was most likely spent on the wildfires in Colorado. Baumer said left over funds such as those in this instance are typically placed in a carryover account for the following year but for the first time, and for whatever reason, it has not come back to the Forest Service units. She said no one in the Forest Service received carryover money from the Title II RAC funds.

Cominotti wondered why the fuel wood supply at the landfill had not been made available and Dickens agreed that there were some cords of wood stored there for low income resident’s emergency needs but people must go through the application process to obtain the wood. She said not many were willing to do that. Cominotti said that is because of the questions on the application.

Dickens explained that due to abuse of the program by some people there has to be some sort of screening process.


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