County commissioners give unanimous support for November ballot initiatives | AspenTimes.com

County commissioners give unanimous support for November ballot initiatives

Charles Agar

Supporters of the Healthy Community Fund ballot initiative crowded the Pitkin County commissioners meeting room Wednesday wearing shirts that read “Helping from the Heart – Vote ‘Yes’ on 1A.” And before a standing-room-only crowd, the commissioners agreed unanimously to put the initiative, along with the Open Spaces and Trails public land initiative, on the ballot this fall.The Healthy Community Fund supports nonprofit health and human services agencies in Pitkin County, one of two Colorado counties that subcontract most such services. The fund covers everything from senior and youth support services to programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, care for the terminally ill and their families, mental health counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, support for people with developmental difficulties, prenatal care, family planning and immunization.Supporters cited not only the fund’s financial contributions to individual agencies, but also the leverage such a “stamp of approval” from the county gives organizations in their efforts to acquire matching funds and further grants from public and private sources.Ken Canfield of the Senior Council said that his organization was a virtual “shipwreck” before county support. Many agencies representatives, like Bruce Christianson of Mountain Valley Developmental Services, said that recent cuts in federal funding make the fund’s support vital; “We’ve had people die waiting for service,” he said.”Nonprofits do a better job,” said Nan Sundeen, community relations director and director of the Healthy Community Fund.Citing the success of the program and the growing needs of local nonprofit agencies, Sundeen requested raising the annual outlays from the fund to $1.25 million, a 35 percent ($335,000) increase from the amount the fund started with in 2002. Pitkin County voters supported with 75 percent support creation of the Healthy Community Fund that year with a five-year temporary tax increase.County taxpayers would pay $5.27 per $100,000 of residential property value. That’s an increase of $1.37 per $100,000 of property.”If anyone with a million-dollar house has a problem with this,” joked Mick Ireland, chairman of the commissioners, “I’ll pay it for them.”Open space fundingDiscussion then turned from one feel-good initiative to another: the ballot question to authorize additional funding for the Open Space and Trails Program. “The best way to preserve land is to buy it,” said Dale Will, Open Space and Trails Program executive director.Will said the open space program offers a permanent solution to overdevelopment. Local trail systems foster the relationship of individuals to their bodies, one another and nature, and “enable people to get out and enjoy the land.””These private holdings are in a state of flux,” Will said, referring to the few remaining ranches and other large parcels that haven’t been committed to residential development. He urged a pledge of additional funds “before it’s too late.” Within the next decade or so, he reckoned, the county won’t have the opportunity to protect property from development as easily as it can now. Since initial passage in 1990 (and subsequent extension in 1999), the open space program has protected some 14,000 acres of scenic terrain and secured 37 miles of trails in Pitkin County. The Save Open Spaces committee asked for $20 million in funding. As with the Healthy Community Fund, it represents a continuation of an existing tax rather than a new tax. The resolution to put the open space question to voters also passed unanimously.Tim McFlynn, Open Space and Trails trustee and co-founder, said that passage of both resolutions together was a poignant addressing of “body, mind and soul.” Commissioner Dorothea Farris said, “It has to make you proud to be part of a community that says ‘These are our values.'”The questions will be on the ballot for the November general election.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.