Keep tax or lose programs? | AspenTimes.com
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Keep tax or lose programs?

Joel Stonington

Pitkin County voters likely will be asked this fall to renew the property tax that supports the county’s Health and Human Services/Community Nonprofit Fund. “Everybody on the board wants to continue the funding,” said County Commissioner Michael Owsley. “There’s no other choice.”With the tax set to expire this year, many nonprofit and service organizations, some of which rely on the fund for more than a quarter of their income, will be out in the cold without voter support.”I don’t think it’s a question that we’ll have to go to the voters,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris. “Funding from the state and federal levels has not come.”An increase in the tax rate also may be in the works. The current tax costs homeowners roughly $42 a year for every $1 million in property value.”We might have to say, to keep [the nonprofits] at the current level, we need more money,” Farris said. “If they lose that funding today, programs will go.”County commissioners have spent the last few months meeting with groups the fund supports to understand better how the grant money is being spent. The final such meeting is April 18. Commissioners then will sift through the information before discussions begin in June about how to proceed. “If it’s not renewed, then we’re in the same boat,” said Nan Sundeen, director of human services for Pitkin County. “And something will have to get cut.”Voters put the tax in place by overwhelmingly approving Referendum 1A – by more than 70 percent – in November 2002. “In 2002, we had to come up with a fast solution,” Sundeen said. “We’ve done a lot of work in five years to make the fund accountable and responsible. Now we have more opportunity to look and say, ‘Is this what we wanted?'”The fund is precisely what many local organizations needed. “The aging of the population creates a situation where more people are at the top and need assistance to stay in their homes,” said Marty Ames, executive director of Pitkin County Senior Services, adding that the meals-on-wheels program has increased from 338 deliveries in 1995 to 2,036 in 2005. “Everybody always wants more money because they can always use it,” Owsley said. He went on to say that meetings, like the one commissioners held with Senior Services, have made it clear that there is a genuine need for more funds. “It would be nice to fund everyone at the level they need to be funded,” Sundeen said. “What is our responsibility as a local government? Is it our responsibility to fill out what the state and feds have dropped off doing? Yes.”In 2005, Pitkin County’s Health and Human Services/Community Nonprofit Fund contributed $736,399 to 42 service agencies and nonprofits. In March, the Aspen City Council recommended renewing and increasing the tax to the county commissioners.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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