The wording of a letter regarding the funding of a Centers of Excellence project at the University of Utah is causing a controversy so serious that the attorney general is looking into the matter.
At issue is whether the Utah Economic Development Board should turn over the remainder of $400,000 to the Center for Chemical Reactors, an oil processing technology project.Lynn Blake, co-directer of the Utah Division of Economic Development, told the board Tuesday that 21/2 years ago the center requested some funding from the board through the Centers of Excellence Advisory Board and it was approved. State officials supported a total of $400,000, but the first year only $70,000 was allocated, with the understanding that other allocations would be forthcoming in future years.
Based on that understanding, the project director applied to the U.S. Department of Energy for a grant to help in his research and told federal officials of the state's $400,000 commitment, an apparent attempt to obtain the maximum amount of matching money.
Several months ago, the advisory council refused to allocate more money because there was no commercial application for the project's services. The project director said a commitment was made and he wants the additional money.
Blake said there is a contract that allocated the initial $70,000, so the attorney general will have to determine if that contract is binding or whether the wording in correspondence forces the board to pay the difference between $70,000 and $400,000.
In connection with the Centers of Excellence program, which is designed to provide money for various projects with the idea of transferring the research into formation of companies in the state, the board voted to hire a consultant to conduct a management audit of the entire program.
Max Farbman, a board member, suggested spending $7,500 for an audit to review the entire program, which has given thousands of dollars in the last several years for research at Utah's colleges and universities.
He suggested hiring the Ben Franklin Partnership in Pennsylvania, but state procurement procedures require that written proposals be requested.