Colorado State University and Colorado County Sheriffs Agree on Indirect Costs Rate for County-Jurisdiction Fires

The mountain pine beetle infestation and population growth in the wildland-urban interface are two visible reminders of wildfire risk in Colorado. The Colorado State Forest Service, a service and outreach agency of the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University, assists landowners and local governments to steward forest resources and reduce risks to life, property and the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.

“The CSFS home within Colorado State University is purposeful,” said Rick Miranda, Colorado State University provost and executive vice president. “It exemplifies CSU’s unique position in the state—that of a 21st century land grant educational institution engaged in the education, research, outreach and service needs of greatest import to the State of Colorado, nation and world.”

Established in 1955, the CSFS has a long history and successful partnership with Colorado counties in wildfire prevention and suppression. The CSFS facilitates wildfire response and rapid access to state and federal resources, technical assistance and services via a network of longstanding operating agreements and collaborative relationships. Counties have open-door access to resources and services without the typical delays inherent with procurement and payment processes.

Recent discussions have focused on issues between the CSFS and counties regarding indirect costs charged by CSU/CSFS to county-jurisdiction fire billings. Indirect costs, also known as facilities and administrative costs, are the common expenses incurred in normal business operations that are difficult to attribute to one specific project. Examples of indirect costs include utilities, central services such as payroll and purchasing, building maintenance and information technology maintenance and support.

An indirect rate is based on a detailed cost analysis and distribution formula defined and administered by the federal government. The process is designed to fairly distribute those common costs to all projects.

CSU and the CSFS invited county sheriffs and other interested parties to sort through the issues. The meeting resulted in agreement that a 13-percent facilities and administrative costs rate, rather than the applicable 23-percent rate, would be applied to county-jurisdiction fires for a two-year period with CSU/CSFS contributing the difference. A task force was formed to clarify misinformation and determine a mutually agreeable solution for the future. Co-chaired by Kathi Delehoy, CSU senior associate vice president for Research Administration, and Don Christensen, executive director, County Sheriffs of Colorado, the task force has made good progress.

“We found that the actual financial impact of indirect costs assessed on county-jurisdiction fires based on a five-year average is $15,000 per year shared across 23 counties,” said Christensen, whose organization represents the state’s 64 county sheriffs.

Future task force meetings will focus on resolving misperceptions and arriving at a well-known and understood method of recovering business costs associated with county-jurisdiction wildfires.

“CSU and the CSFS will work in good faith with the counties and other interested parties to assure a fair and reasonable outcome while continuing to provide the best possible service to the State of Colorado,” said Delehoy.

“Wildfires don’t respect property boundaries, so it’s in the best interest of landowners and local, state and federal government to work together to mitigate the potential of wildland fires,” said Jeff Jahnke, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “By pooling our resources and skills, we increase our ability to prevent wildfires or stop them when they’re small, which helps save property and reduce expenses.”