Little squirming over Pitco’s tax question for nonprofits | AspenTimes.com

Little squirming over Pitco’s tax question for nonprofits

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

There wasn’t much squirming last night at the debate over Referendum 1A.

There were only 10 citizens left in the room during the second half of Monday’s traditional Squirm Night to listen to both sides of the issue, and there were no hardball questions from the audience.

Local gadfly Jeffrey Evans was apparently the only person contacted who was willing to speak out against the proposed property tax increase to fund health and human services programs in Pitkin County, and even he was wary of appearing to be in favor of “kicking the walkers out from the elderly.”

Evans made the point that there was plenty of money coming into the county for open space and transportation funding, but said commissioners lacked the discretion to shift those dedicated funds in times of “emergency situations,” such as when sales tax revenue plummets as it has the past two years.

He suggested amending the Pitkin County charter to give the commissioners more leeway in how tax revenues are spent.

Commissioner Shellie Roy, who was on the other side of the table from Evans, wholeheartedly agreed with his point, but she still urged voters to support the tax increase, which would raise $800,000 this year by placing $4.20 of additional tax on each $100,000 of residential property in the county.

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Roy said that during the budget review process she had tried to find a different “hostage” than health and human services programs. She suggested asking the voters if they would support a tax increase to keep funding the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, but was talked out of that by an imposing Sheriff Bob Braudis.

Roy said that Braudis stood tall and told her “it would be totally inappropriate to put the sheriff’s department through the morale pressure of a vote.”

So Roy backed down and now the “morale pressure” is being felt by people who work to provide social services through programs administered by Pitkin County.

Most of the money from the proposed tax would be allocated to programs such as Senior Services, Community Health and Aspen Mental Health.

Pat Fallin, the chair of the Helping from the Heart campaign seeking passage of Question 1A, said the five-year tax provision would create a “protected, stable funding source” and that a local five-member commission would decide how best to spend the money.

In addition to funding health and human services programs, about $125,000 of the annual tax revenue would go to local nonprofits that Pitkin County has helped fund in the past, such as the Independence Pass Foundation, the Nordic Trails Council and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers.

Evans was critical of that aspect of the tax increase.

“I think the government should get out of the business of giving taxpayer dollars to nonprofits,” he said.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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