A state agency that wants to avoid nosy taxpayers with questions about how it spends their money should consider becoming a nonprofit.

It’s worked so far for Colorado’s Community Centered Boards (CCBs), but the time has come for these de facto state service providers to be subject to some financial transparency.

More than 40 years ago, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation that established CCBs, a system of taxpayer funded, non-profit organizations to provide community based, long-term services and support to developmentally disabled children and adults. The 20 CCBs are almost exclusively funded through federal, state and local tax dollars.

Recently, some parents of adult developmentally disabled children have questioned the spending practices of some CCBs. The agencies have hidden behind their nonprofit status and refused to answer, according to the advocacy group Parents of Adults with Disabilities in Colorado (PADCO).

This has led to an erosion of trust between clients and provider that only transparency can mend.

Because the state established CCBs as nonprofits, they do not have to provide detailed spending information, even though they are taxpayer-funded. Furthermore, they are not subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.

The only financial information CCBs are required to file are IRS 990 forms, which aggregate spending under general categories such as staff development, food and lobbying. Some provide additional information through annual and mill levy reports, but they are long on numbers and short on details.

Consider Denver Options, a CCB serving the Denver County area. Denver Options receives roughly $45 million each year in taxpayer money. Yet it still maintains a long waiting list and claims it cannot meet the needs of its clientele without more funding. The organization’s Web site states, “Due to lack of funding, many people who have been found eligible for Denver Options’ services are waiting to receive help. Currently this most affects adults with development disabilities.”

The economic downturn, Colorado’s recent budget crisis, and voters’ rejection of Amendment 51 (a tax increase earmarked for CCBs) have exacerbated the situation, leaving thousands of developmentally disabled Coloradans languishing on waiting lists for services.

Where does the money go?

Parents and advocates of children and adults with developmental disabilities have been asking this question for several years. During testimony before a 2007 special legislative committee, parent Edward Arnold proposed implementing a “sunset” on CCB employee salaries.

Arnold stated in his proposal, “There is a great disparity between CCBs as to salary and benefits, particularly at the CEO level… Both the disparity, and the absolute levels of salary, are a lightning rod for resentment from parents who have to live frugally.”

Also Arnold pointed out that “salaries paid to executive-level staff of certain Colorado CCBs are considerably higher than those paid to similar executive-level positions in other states such as California, which serves much higher populations than Colorado.”

According to Denver Options’ IRS filing, the executive director earns $369,584 per year in salary and benefits. The nonprofit also pays its top three executives nearly $800,000 in combined salaries and benefits, and another eight employees more than $100,000 each per year.

Some parents are left to wonder if executives are well-paid at the expense of services for their children.

Financial transparency for state-established organizations that are primary service providers would go a long way to help restore trust in the CCB system and ensure that taxpayer dollars are used efficiently for developmentally disabled.

It is time Colorado supports families and advocates of children and adults with developmental disabilities by joining them and demanding financial transparency for Colorado’s Community Centered Boards.

Elizabeth Matecki was a summer intern at the Independence Institute working with the Colorado Transparency Project.

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