Basalt council approves uses of tobacco tax funds for counseling, therapy

Board also extends mask rule, renews rental assistance

Basalt anticipates collecting about $480,000 annually from a tax on tobacco products.
File photo

The town of Basalt anticipated reaping $480,000 in revenue from a tax on tobacco products in 2020, so it is planning to put the funds to good use in 2021.

The Town Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to provide $150,000 to the Aspen Hope Center for various counseling programs, $100,000 to the Roaring Fork School District to fund a mental health and behavioral health therapist at Basalt Elementary School and $80,000 for grants of as much as $10,000 for nonprofit organizations that serve Basalt and have programs related to tobacco use prevention or cessation.

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the expenditures align with the uses outlined in an April 2018 ballot question. Voters passed a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes and a 40% tax on other tobacco products.

“The link between youth and adult tobacco and substance use and mental health is strongly tied,” Mahoney wrote in a memo to the council.

The funds to the Hope Center would be earmarked for use with clients and people in need in the midvalley.

“Anybody in the town would have therapy through the Hope Center,” he said.

The funds also will help staff a help line for people experiencing mental health issues as well as provide crisis response, such as a traumatic death.

Hope Center executive director Michelle Muething thanked the board and said there is great demand for the services.

“You covered all three aspects and they are alive and well in Basalt every day, that’s for sure,” she said. Muething said she will provide annual reports to the town to show how the funds are being used.

For the Basalt schools, the funding will fill a gap, according to Mahoney. The school district receives $160,000 annually from Eagle County for mental health providers in the Basalt middle and high schools. The town funds will expand services to the elementary school.

The intent is to provide the Hope Center with $150,000 and the school district $100,000 annually for three years, with the possibility of extending the commitments.

Other Town Council actions Tuesday night included:

* The board signed off on providing $10,000 for an Emergency Rental Assistance program in 2021. Applicants must be residents of deed-restricted affordable housing in Basalt and suffered financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The program was created last fall and $10,594 in aid was granted to six households in November and December. The funds were “desperately needed,” according to Cathy Click, a member of the Basalt Affordable Community Housing committee.

Mayor Bill Kane said the program’s dollar volume was small but showed “compassion.” Council members generally urged the housing committee to return with a request for funds if they burned through the $10,000 helping Basalt families.

Councilwoman Elyse Hottel urged careful checking to make sure applicants were truly in need. Other rental assistance programs, not the one in Basalt, are allegedly subjected to fraud, she said.

“I have heard anecdotally that people are gaming the system,” she said.

Basalt’s funds go straight to the landlords rather than the applicants.

* The board extended a face-covering requirement “when entering and while inside the areas of a place of business open to the public.” It also covers other public indoor or outdoor places where persons are unable to maintain safe social distancing. The mask requirement is in place until April 28 unless the council takes other action.