The Secure Rural School Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) for the Allegheny National Forest, Allegheny RAC, held the first of two meetings this month in anticipation of the Sept. 30 deadline for recommendation of projects to be funded utilizing Title II allocations.
The group was only able to vote on recommendations to later be ratified by absent members as those in attendance did not constitute a quorum. The absent members will be contacted after the meeting to concur on recommendations and make approvals official.
"We're down to two weeks, so we've got to do what we've got to do," Allegheny RAC Chairman Bob Snyder said referring to the Sept. 30 recommendation deadline.
Under the rules governing the structure of RACs, a simple quorum does not suffice for official approval of committee motions. An RAC is composed of three separate groups one representing forest industry, one representing environmental, recreation and historical groups and one representing public officials. Each group consists of five members. A RAC must have a quorum of members of each of the three groups to officially approve a motion.
Allegheny RAC discussed the unique challenges presented by the timeline outlined in the re-authorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for this year.
Under the re-authorization, the RAC, which recommends projects for funding through Title II funds, must have its recommendations in place by Sept. 30. It's the same deadline counties have been given to determine whether they are taking a flat rate Secure Rural Schools payment or 25 percent of total forest receipts for the year.
Counties choosing to opt for the flat rate must allocate between 15 and 20 percent of the payment to Title II and Title III projects. Up to seven percent of that allocation can be used through Title III, the county's portion of the flat rate of Forest Service funding. The remainder, traditionally eight percent, must be utilized for Title II, or special projects on forest lands. Of the remaining eight percent, half must be allocated for use in road maintenance or obliteration and other infrastructure work.
Counties opting to take the 25 percent payment do not allocate Title II funds.
The situation has left the RAC in the position of trying to approve projects without knowledge of which counties will be contributing to Title II funds.
Although the RAC wouldn't have precise amounts until forest receipt totals were calculated and available in January, knowledge of which counties were choosing to take the flat rate, and therefore contributing to RAC-reviewed project funding, could give a fair estimate.
Allegheny RAC coordinator Kathy Mohney announced $151,656 was available for Title II in 2011. She said, if Forest and Warren counties opt for the flat rate and Elk and McKean counties opt for the percentage rate, approximately $144,073 will be available for Title II projects in 2012.
As no official decision on which payment option counties are taking is in place, the amount could be drastically different.
"What is the group's thought on where we want to look at projects?" Bradford District Ranger Macario Herrera asked about the allocation of project funds. "If it ends up being just Forest (County) contributing, do we want to look at just Forest County (projects)."
The group came to no formal agreement on a policy, but agreed to consider which counties are contributing funds when considering project approvals.
Approximately $807,976 in Title II funding was allocated between 2008 and 2011. Forest County received approximately $380,890 and Warren County received approximately $427,086. The RAC has recommended approximately $797,535 worth of project funding for approval in that time, Mohney announced. That left a total of just over $10,000 in unallocated funds.
The group tentatively approved a request by Glade Township for additional funding to cover increased gravel costs on a project being funded with Title II money. A letter from Glade Township Supervisor Joe Scully, who sits on the RAC but was not present when the decision was approved, outlined an increase in gravel cost of $2.25 per ton since the project was initially approved. The letter estimated the project would require $12,000 in additional funding. RAC members tentatively approved utilizing $10,400 in unallocated funds from previous years to continue funding the project.
RAC members present at the meeting did tentatively approve a submission deadline of noon on Sept. 25 for projects to be considered for funding. The deadline is set for the day before the group's meeting to approve projects to be recommended for funding.
The group also approved allowing presentations in support of project submissions at its Sept. 26 meeting; it was tentatively agreed to allow five minutes per presentation.
The RAC will meet to review project proposals and approve recommendations to be sent on to Allegheny National Forest Supervisor Erin Connelly for final approval at its Sept. 26 meeting beginning at 10:30 a.m. in Connelly's office.