City to talk growing health-issue trends | AspenTimes.com

City to talk growing health-issue trends

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

City officials will soon decide whether to repurpose Wheeler Opera House real estate transfer tax funds to address growing health issues such as substance abuse, mental illness, child care and senior services, among other problem areas.

During a joint work session Tuesday between the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners, Pitkin County Health and Human Services representatives described the area's troubling trends, most notably the volume and complexity of mental issues.

For instance, the county contended there are not enough Spanish-speaking employees to meet the demand of the Latino community. Another problem concerns substance-abusing juveniles between ages 10 and 18. According to statistics presented Tuesday, since 2009 the number of kids referred to Health and Human Services has jumped from around 10 percent to about 30 percent.

Other areas of concern include increased workload due to enrollments under the Affordable Care Act and an increase in demand for worker housing.

Both the Wheeler real estate tax fund and Health and Human Services are among the council's top 10 goal areas to address in 2015. In recent years, Aspen has contributed around $300,000 annually to the county health fund. According to city projections, funds dedicated to the Wheeler from the transfer tax are projected to show an ending balance in excess of $35 million by 2023, and officials have wondered whether some of that revenue might be better spent elsewhere.

Currently, about 66 percent of the transfer tax funds housing, while the rest supports the Wheeler. Any potential repurposing is subject to a public vote.

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On Monday, Assistant City Manager Barry Crook pointed out that the city earmarks $8 million for affordable housing annually and $2 million for child care services. What's next, Crook said, is the city needs to decide if it wants to change its contribution in monetary value or focus.

"One thing I'm really hoping to come out of this process is investment from the city, not just, 'Here's a sum of money given to the county,' but the city to understand what they're funding and why they're funding it," said Health and Human Services representative Lindsay Lofaro. "I don't want to tell you what I think those needs should be. It should come from you all."

County Commissioner Rob Ittner said these six trends are not making things any easier but more challenging and complex.

"That's the big takeaway," he said.

City officials did not lay out any initial opinions, but they are expected to revisit the issue at a future work session.

herk@aspentimes.com

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