Campaign urges voters to renew community fund in November | AspenTimes.com

Campaign urges voters to renew community fund in November

ASPEN – More than 60 local nonprofits currently receive funding from Pitkin County’s Healthy Community Fund. On Wednesday, representatives from nearly a dozen of those organizations joined members of the Helping from the Heart campaign to ask voters to renew and increase the tax that supports the fund in November.

“The severe economic impact across the country has hit home – and in a more dramatic way than I can ever remember,” said Sue Smedstad, co-chair of the campaign. “This is evident in the needs of these organizations. They are being asked to do more with less. We need to do our part to pitch in.”

Voters first passed the Healthy Community Fund tax in 2002, then again in 2005. It supports 61 nonprofits, ranging from the Aspen Homeless Shelter and Aspen High School Project Graduation, to Response and the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention; the fund also supports many health and human-services organizations, as well as resources for the valley’s growing senior population. The tax will sunset in 2012 if voters do not approve it Nov. 1.

“I think this is a very worthwhile cause that we are here to fight for, especially at a time when our taxes are not happily accepted,” said Kurt Bresnitz, a 61-year Aspen resident who most recently served on the local senior council. “This fund is very necessary for this community.”

Currently, property owners pay approximately $4.25 per $100,000 of residential assessed value to the fund. Referendum 1A aks to increase this amount to approximately $5.55 per $100,000 of residential assessed value; the tax collection would begin in 2013 and continue for five years.

“We need strong and effective safety net systems,” said local businessman Warren Klug, who is co-chairman of the campaign. “A healthy, vibrant economy needs healthy, vibrant employees. That’s what this fund is all about; that is what it supports.”

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The community fund tax was the focus of several debates about whether to ask voters to simply extend the existing tax for another term or to propose an increase to help the health and human-services agencies and nonprofits that are seeing more demand for services in the recession.

The ballot language before voters asks if county taxes should be increased by up to $464,000 annually, resulting in a total tax levy of up to $1.9 million, for the Healthy Community Fund. The fund currently generates about $1.4 million annually.

“The services this funds supports are often invisible, but they have touched all of our lives in some way,” said County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who attended Wednesday’s meeting as a citizen. “They are the invisible net that holds this community together, and we need to continue to support them.”

Pitkin County residents hoping to cast their vote in the Nov. 1 election must do so by mail. There will be no polls open on Election Day.

“This is a mail-in election only,” said Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland. “And half of you won’t get a ballot in the mail … you think you’re registered to vote, and that you’ll get that ballot, but you won’t.”

According to Ireland and organizers of the Helping from the Heart campaign, about 8,000 ballots will be mailed. An estimated 2,300 addresses on file with the Pitkin County clerk are undeliverable and ballots cannot be forwarded; in addition, more than 650 “active” voters have undeliverable addresses.

“So go online and make sure you’re ballot is in order,” urged Ireland, explaining that county residents can verify, update and/or register to vote at http://www.pitkinvotes.org.

Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 11. If you do not receive a ballot, you can go to the Pitkin County Clerk’s office in the Courthouse Annex up until 7 p.m. on Election Day to receive a ballot.