A healthy future for social service tax?
July 24, 2006
Pitkin County Commissioners will continue discussions about the Healthy Community Fund Wednesday, after a recent survey suggests most voters would continue to support it.The Health and Human Services fund is currently supported by a dedicated property tax, which taxes homeowners roughly $4 for every $100,000 their property is worth. The five-year tax will expire at the end of 2006; it was approved by more than 70 percent of voters in 2002.The Health and Human Services Department recommended keeping the tax for another six years and adding about $335,000 to the fund, said department spokeswoman Susan Berdahl. That would up the cost to about $5.20 for every $100,000, she said.According to the survey, 82 percent of voters would approve a continuation of the tax at its current rate for another five years. Most people – 53 percent – wanted to keep the tax as it is now; less were supportive of extending the time period and increasing the amount of the tax.The telephone survey was conducted by Frederickpolls from June 4-11 and included 381 interviews. Pitkin County Commissioners have also been meeting with area nonprofits to learn more about how the fund’s money is being spent.Helping abused women, hospice care, drug prevention and dropout prevention ranked as the most important social services, according to voters.The fund contributed $736,399 to 42 service agencies and nonprofits in 2005. County Commissioner Dorothea Farris was pleased with the report, saying it reflected what the commissioners already believed based on feedback. “I think it shows the best chance for election [approval] is extending the same amount,” Farris said. “It’s encouraging to know that a program we laid out five years ago is supported.”Federal and state funding for programs that help the elderly, poor and troubled youth has declined in recent years, making this fund even more important to officials.”All the services continue to increase in need, but the funding is down,” Farris said. Commissioner Jack Hatfield echoed the opinion of voters, saying he was “not overly enthusiastic about raising the actual tax level.” He is also sensitive to a more limited time frame so the county can evaluate policies without being locked in for too long.However, he was pleased with the survey’s outcome, saying it was consistent with feedback he’s received from voters. He also complimented the survey’s ability to get a broad, random perspective.”You do not want to pinpoint any specific group of people,” Hatfield said.Greg Schreier’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.