County commissioners channel some federal money to early childhood programs | VailDaily.com

County commissioners channel some federal money to early childhood programs

EAGLE — The county commissioners have ordered that $211,000 in federal funding be channeled to local early childhood organizations.

The lion's share of that went to Early Childhood Partners ($77,000) and the Family Learning Center ($130,000). Another $3,750 went to Eagle River Youth Coalition.

Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney was involved with all three organizations before she was elected three years ago.

To avoid the appearance of conflicts, McQueeney resigned from Early Childhood Partners and the board positions with the other two organizations, she said.

"I still love them and check in occasionally to see what they're doing, but they're not mine. I don't get paid by them," McQueeney said.

She remains unapologetic about her support for early childhood education.

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"It is who I am. It should come as a surprise to no one that I advocate for, and always will advocate for, our youngest residents," McQueeney said.

A PILT primer

Eagle County government received $2.2 million from the feds earlier this year, Payment In Lieu of Taxes or PILT money. That's tax revenue the county would have received from property taxes, but won't because the feds don't pay property taxes on federal land — about 85 percent of Eagle County.

Instead, the feds hand out lumps of PILT money. The county commissioners can spend that money as they choose.

The county shares its PILT money with Eagle County Schools. In exchange, the county gets to tell the school district where some of that money will be spent. This year, the commissioners' earmarks went like this:

• Catholic Charities, $8,250

• Eagle River Youth Coalition, $3,750

• Mountain Valley Developmental, $20,000

• Family Learning Center, $130,000

• Early Childhood Partners, $77,500

Total: $239,500

Nothing to hide

McQueeney said while it might make a big difference to the county's finance department and accountants what fund the money comes from, it doesn't matter to her.

"I'm not trying to hide it in any way. I came into this job advocating for kids. I know I have not crossed any lines that, ethically, we're not allowed to cross," McQueeney said. "I came from the school district. I came from early childhood. You can't really be surprised that I continue to advocate for school-aged kids and early childhood."

Before this past November's election, the commissioners — Democrats McQueeney, Jill Ryan and Kathy Chandler-Henry — argued passionately about whether to put a dedicated early childhood tax on the ballot. Ryan wanted it on the ballot. McQueeney and Chandler-Henry did not.