Couthouse

Albany County’s grants manager Tai Wright and other staff in the courthouse are currently working on a plan to receive more funding for the federal programs it administers.

Albany County is one of the more prolific counties in Wyoming for the volume of federal grants it applies for and receives. Much of that is a credit to having a qualified person like Wright, who’s solely focused on bringing new resources into the county.

However, the county still doesn’t have an indirect cost rate negotiated with the federal government, which prevents Wright from getting the U.S. to foot the bill for the overhead expenses Albany County incurs for managing those programs.

In the accounting realm, “indirect costs” are administrative expenses like rent, office expenses and clerical work that help support a program’s “direct costs” — the deliverables that meet the purpose of the grant.

In recent years, Wright said the county’s approach to charging for indirect costs has been “inconsistent at best.”

Of the $3.5 million in total grants the county administered in the 2018 fiscal year, less than $5,000 in indirect costs were collected.

“In a perfect world, we would charge all grants an indirect cost,” she said.

In a recent analysis of the county’s grant expenditures, Wright estimated some elected officials spend a significant amount of time administering grants. Both County Clerk Jackie Gonzales and County Attorney Peggy Trent, spend 20 percent of their time on grant work, Wright estimates.

Of the $2.1 million the county received from the federal government in the 2018 fiscal year, the county had to spend 14 percent of that on overhead, Wright estimates.

“The truth of it is, we are probably overworking some of our accounting people on the clerk’s side and the treasurer’s side,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said during a Tuesday work session.

That percentage amounts to about $300,000, which the county mostly paid for with its general coffers. Much of that could recouped through increased funding from the federal government, though not all. Not all grants allow grantees to charge for indirect costs.

For grants that don’t allow for indirect costs, Wright said county staff will need to analyze whether it’s overburdensome to keep administering those grants.

Some program managers might be skeptical of the plan to charge for indirect costs, fearing it could reduce the amount of funding going to their program’s deliverables, Wright said. However, she said it’s more likely that having a negotiated rate would simply increase the total grant funding federal departments appropriate.

To acquire a flat indirect cost, Wright will need to negotiate a rate with whatever federal department the county receives the most funding from. For example, if the county negotiated a 14 percent rate with FEMA, it could then apply that rate to grants received from all U.S. department.

Wright said she’d like to work with countywide elected officials, department heads and other “key sub-recipients” from February-April to develop a county policy on indirect costs.

She’s hoping that policy can be established in time to have a negotiated rate for the 2020 fiscal year. The county’s policy should then be updated every 3-5 years, Wright said.

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