Aspen council, commissioners hear about need for Healthy Community Fund | AspenTimes.com

Aspen council, commissioners hear about need for Healthy Community Fund

Chadwick Bowman
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – With two weeks until the local property-tax election, which aims to raise more money for nonprofit social services, elected city and county officials heard comments Tuesday about the programs’ role.

Aspen City Council members and the Pitkin County commissioners met at City Hall for a joint work session on budget matters that featured a presentation from representatives of a few area nonprofits. The organizations and their programs collectively are part of the Pitkin County Health and Human Services Network.

Members of the network, informally called “the POD,” are concerned about future funding sources. On Nov. 1, the county ballot will feature Referendum 1A, which seeks to raise property taxes to $6 per $100,000 of assessed value for the county’s Healthy Community Fund. Through grants, the money will benefit the various Roaring Fork Valley agencies that are part of the POD.

One of the four program representatives who spoke to officials was Lauren Mbereko, executive director of Aspen-based Response, an agency that helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“The demand for services continues to increase, while our incomes and agency capacity are shrinking,” Mbereko said.

Kerry Ach, development director for the Roaring Fork Family Resource Centers, told the story of a victim of abuse: a middle-school student she called “Joe” to illustrate how programs work together.

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Her agency, which has coordinators in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, assists families with school-age children in dire need of health, education and social services.

She said Joe’s family received aid from many agencies with programs that helped him deal with abuse; others assisted his mother, who was struggling with bills and other financial issues.

“Joe is a testament of collaboration within our network of human services,” Ach said.

The umbrella of programs within the POD serve 25,000 people each year, even though Pitkin County’s population totals about 16,000, officials said.

“It’s the nature of our valley life that our agencies are embracing folks who need help, all up and down [the valley],” said Mitzi Ledingham, the county’s deputy director of health and human services.

Representatives of the agencies touted the collaborative efforts of the various programs, including some based outside of Pitkin County. They said the programs serve people with great needs who are vital to the local economy. But with growing demand for their services, many of the agencies are seeking funding increases.

“The POD has identified that conditions have remained much the same as last year,” Ledingham wrote in a recent memo to the officials. “The standard has been set for agencies to accomplish ‘more with less’ as service demand continues to increase, grants and donor gifts remain flat or are reduced and revenues are reduced from fees for service. Agencies are continuing to make adjustments in light of these realities.”

Mayor Mick Ireland said he wants the POD to explore the possibility of joining forces with programs in other counties with a goal toward pooling resources.

“I’m putting out there the notion that we should look at a way to combine resources and dollars,” Ireland said.

During the discussion, there were only a few casual references to the upcoming election.

But last week, Ireland told The Aspen Times that he supports the county’s proposed tax increase – the county is asking voters to renew the Healthy Community Fund revenue source for five years – although he doesn’t believe that it goes far enough in meeting the agencies’ needs.

“I’m supporting the mill levy at the county because, even though I think that the amount that they’re asking for is inadequate for the demonstrated need, it’s still better than asking for nothing,” he said.

“We have a lot of services, we have a lot of needs, and I think that we as a community can afford to help those in need, but we ought to do so in the most efficient ways possible, through single administration instead of multiple administration of the same funds,” Ireland added.

The special countywide tax contributed $1.29 million toward the 2011 Healthy Community Fund. The city supplied $429,000 to assist many of the same agencies this year.

In the 2012 budget, the grant requests to the county total $1.49 million and requests to the city add up to $545,000. The elected officials won’t officially decide the funding levels until later this year, when each entity adopts its own budget.

The city is not planning to contribute toward the fund in 2013: Aspen officials have said in recent months that the city’s taxpayers already contribute significantly toward the fund, via the county property tax.