TOP Trails feeling financial pinch
by Jim Smothers
May 29, 2013 | 1660 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TALLADEGA COUNTY – The check is in the mail. Or possibly on a FedEx truck. But either way, it will be a great relief to the TOP Trails board.

Larry Childers, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, said a check for approximately $78,000 was processed for TOP Trails Wednesday. Delivery is expected this week.

At the time of the board’s last meeting, their financial statement showed the board’s bills totaled more than its money in the bank. At that time, the board was also awaiting processing of grant funding requests totaling $397,348. The board cut back on security and reached an agreement with park developer C.D. Roberts and Associates to bill for a limited number of hours, regardless of hours worked, until the financial pinch is eased.

Work on a $317,900 campground and paving contract was put on hold because the park board does not have the funds to pay the contractor’s draws once work begins.

Board Chairman Tommy Spears said ADECA asked for additional information last week and the PSG was getting that together Wednesday night.

Spears said, “If the state would ever send us the money we’re due, we would be back to business as usual. We’re in a holding pattern right now.”

Last week the board’s contracted forester James Greer and board member Gary Steed of Steed Timber, the company that has the timber contract on the park property, gave the board an advance of $50,000 against future timber cuttings to help keep operations going.

The park is still open seven days a week for trail riders, with a $5 per person fee. User fees have been bringing in about $5,000 per month, an amount that usually decreases during the hot summer months.

The park’s board, the Park Authority of the cities of Lincoln and Talladega, has been awarded approximately $1.7 million in grants since 2009 through ADECA.

Approval of a grant does not mean a lump sum transfer to the grantee. Instead, reimbursement requests are made as the project progresses.

TOP Trails has made headway in the park by funding projects through sales of timber from the park property and then filing for reimbursement for those projects from its grants.

C.D. Roberts and Associates is the Professional Services Group contracted with the park board to develop the park, and is charged with filing for those reimbursements. Leah Reddick, the PSG’s liaison to the park board, said the process of filing for and receiving those reimbursements has previously taken about six weeks.

The check expected this week is from a request made in November.

Childers, director of communications and information for ADECA, said, “The TOP Trails grants are being handled in a manner that is consistent with all grants we administer. ADECA has the responsibility of reviewing these requests and protecting taxpayer funds by ensuring that all expenditures are fully and accurately documented. Because these funds were provided to us by a federal agency, we must ensure that both federal and state laws and regulations are met. Complex projects often require detailed documentation requiring considerable time to gather, submit and review.”

No explanation was immediately offered about the delay in processing the reimbursement requests.

The November request is for spending on the “Environmental Center” at the park. Reddick said ADECA has requested more information and documentation several times for that one. That’s when the “logjam” began, she said noting that subsequent requests have not been processed yet.

The Environmental Center houses showers, a meeting room, offices and a reception area. The board was offered a week of free labor by the Carpenters for Christ group after a planned project fell through on them at the last minute. Members of the volunteer group had planned their vacations around a work project, and their week of availability could not be changed. To take advantage of their offer, the board had to have materials on site when they arrived, and there was not time to advertise for bids as normally required. The board declared an emergency to take advantage of the offer. The board also counted on the value of the volunteer labor being used as “in-kind services” as part of the board’s matching funds required for receiving grant funding.

“We have endured several rounds of intense, detailed questioning and have responded within two hours of each additional request. In some cases, our response time can be measured in minutes,” Reddick said.

She added that of the $1.7 million in grants awarded for the project, the board has only received $493,524.57. Requested reimbursements not yet received total just over $300,000.

“We have another $313,524.13 waiting in the wings to submit, and yet another $663,560.71 that we haven't even tapped into yet. We are basically guaranteed to receive that $1,284,000 from ADECA in these grants already awarded us. This is the money that our budget is built on for this year, and into next year. On top of that, we are submitting applications for another almost $800,000 for next year,” she said.

Grants and logging have been the lifeblood for developing the park. From September 2011 until the end of April 2013, Steed Timber paid $865,168 to the board.

Timber thinning in the park is projected to continue through mid-July. Future cutting will occur as needed for other development in the park. The plan is for user fees and fees from special events to fund park operations in the future.

The board’s next meeting is set for June 11 at 7:30 a.m. in the park’s Environmental Center.

Contact Jim Smothers at jsmothers@dailyhome.com.