Fremont County commissioners and Penrose Park board members are at odds over money.
An informal request seeking $100,000 in financial assistance to save the struggling park was rejected by commissioners during a meeting Tuesday morning.
The park district is still struggling financially as a result of mismanaged finances and possible theft.
A year-long News 5 Investigation back in 2015 revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars missing from the park district.
Shortly after our investigation aired, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation.
The case was presented to the DA’s Office, but no charges have been filed and to-date, the money has not been recovered.
?Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners Meeting:
“I was hoping commissioners will find in favor of us and help us with whatever they can do,” Penrose Park and Recreation District President Tina Heffner said.
However, it’s hard to ask for money when hundreds of thousands of dollars remains unaccounted for nearly 3 years after it was discovered missing.
Heffner inherited the district’s financial mess and decided to ask commissioners for help.
“When the newly elected board came into office, they had $18 to work with,” Heffner said.
In 2015, sheriff’s detectives launched an investigation into Trina Finto and her two daughters. All three ran the district between 2008 and 2014.
They were removed from office after commissioners learned the family violated Sunshine Laws and never held proper elections for the park board.
According to a search warrant executed by the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, investigators discovered the park district’s credit card was used to make a series of purchases at more than a dozen retailers including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Office Depot and Sam’s Club.
Detectives also discovered Finto and her two daughters had written themselves numerous checks over the years which put the district in the “red”.
As a result, the Penrose Park District still has problems paying for park upgrades and expenses.
“At this point in time,we can only afford a maintenance person that works 10 hours a week,” Heffner said. “The rest of us do all the volunteer work.”
Money through Conservation Trust Funds:
“Conservation Trust Funds are the portion of Lottery proceeds mandated for distribution directly to local governments based on population,” Heffner said. “The money is used to maintain parks, open space and recreational facilities. Counties receive a full per capital share for the population within their unincorporated boundaries that are not overlapped by a special district. Municipalities receive a full per capita share for the population within their unincorporated boundaries that are not overlapped by a special district and special districts receive one-half of a per capita share. The other half of the per capita share will go to the county or municipality that is overlapped by the special district.”
Heffner told commissioners Tuesday that Fremont County received $1 million in conservation trust funds based on the population of Penrose. The park district already received $500,000 prior to the embezzlement investigation. The other $500,000 remained with the county and Heffner is asking commissioners to release some of that money.
“To-date, the only thing that we’ve been able to find that the county has ever given to Penrose was back in 2010 and we got $3,500,” Heffner said.
Heffner didn’t ask for access to all $500,000. Instead, she asked for $100,000. Commissioners still rejected that request.
“We didn’t feel that $100,000 was an offer that was unreasonable,” Heffner said. “Had they (commissioners) come back, we would have accepted anything.”
Heffner says she plans to go back to the drawing board and re-approach commissioners at a later date.
Since 1985, Heffner says Fremont County has received more than $4 million in conservation trust funds that have been distributed to other entities included the City of Canon City and Florence.
You can read Heffner’s presentation speech to commissioners here.