A proposed property tax increase that will supplement local health and human services programs was overwhelmingly endorsed by Pitkin County voters Tuesday | AspenTimes.com

A proposed property tax increase that will supplement local health and human services programs was overwhelmingly endorsed by Pitkin County voters Tuesday

Jennifer Davoren/Aspen Times Staff Writer

Referendum 1A was approved by 70 percent of voters – of the 5,952 ballots tallied, 4,187 approved the tax increase, compared to 1,765 votes against.

News of the approval was heralded by a group of health and human service providers gathered last night to await the vote.

“I never lost faith. I always knew the community would come through,” said Marty Ames, executive director of Pitkin County Senior Services.

Ames relief was obvious – she would have served as her organization’s sole employee if Referendum 1A had been defeated and the county continued its budget cuts.

Referendum 1A proposed to fund local health and human services – as well as donations to area non profit groups that provide complimentary services – in the face of a recent county budget shortfall. County officials announced earlier this year that it was suffering from a nearly $2.5 million general fund deficit – sales taxes and other fees collected for the general fund suffered due to the nation’s poor economic climate.

The county reluctantly labeled health and human services as expendable unless its proposed tax increase was approved by voters. Programs dedicated to senior citizen health, counseling for at-risk youth, prenatal care and family planning, and services for the developmentally disabled were wrapped in the Referendum 1A package. Secondary county programs such as public television and the nordic trail system were also at stake.

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With voter endorsement of the referendum, property taxes will increase for the next five years, raising $800,000 for health and human service programs each year. This amount includes $200,000 to make up for a number of state and federal budget cuts already felt in Pitkin County.

The annual amount raised will not be added to the county’s general fund, but instead be directly used by selected programs. The referendum also provides for a citizen board that will allocate funds generated by the tax increase.

The approved increase will cost Pitkin County homeowners an estimated $4.20 per $100,000 in property value, while businesses will be taxed an extra $12.60 per $100,000 of value. Vacant land and commercial property would cost an extra $13.10 per $100,000 worth of property.

Ames shared a toast and a few congratulatory hugs with other health and human services providers Tuesday night during a celebratory dinner at The Cantina. It was more than just a few county services on the chopping block with Referendum 1A – it put the jobs of Ames’ coworkers and peers at stake.

“I have two staff members, and they’ve really been suffering since July, not knowing if they would continue to have jobs or not,” Ames said.

Nan Sundeen, the county’s community resource director, also celebrated Tuesday’s vote, noting that the evening’s vote helped reassure Pitkin County’s health and human service providers of the significance of their work.

“I’m very happy, and very relieved,” Sundeen said. “I believed that health and human services and non profits were really important to the community, but we’ve never had a clear message.”