Nonprofits discuss Pitco budget woes | AspenTimes.com

Nonprofits discuss Pitco budget woes

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Not a single nonprofit in attendance at a press conference in Aspen Friday said it would go out of business if support from Pitkin County disappeared.

But a few officials admitted it would take a big bite out of their budgets and overall levels of services.

“Twenty-five percent of our budget comes from Pitkin County ? services would be drastically cut if we lost that support,” said Yvonne Hernandez, executive director of Community Health Services, a nonprofit located near Aspen Valley Hospital.

Community Health Services provides family planning, prenatal care, free breast exams, confidential HIV testing, adult and child immunizations, basic health screenings, physical exams for children under 18 and subsidized health care for people without the resources to pay for it themselves. The nonprofit agency contracts with the federal, state and local governments ? Pitkin County, the city of Aspen and Snowmass Village ? to provide many of the services normally provided by public health agencies.

“If I need to raise fees, I’ll create barriers for my clients to come ? and a lot of them won’t come,” Hernandez continued. “Who is going to pay $25 or $30 for a flu shot that will make them feel bad for a few days and used to cost only $15?”

On Nov. 5, voters will have a chance to decide the fate of funding for nonprofits that provide most of the health and human service assistance available to county residents.

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Pitkin County is facing a $2 million budget deficit for 2002 and several years to come, according to the latest estimates. The county has made a variety of cuts, including the elimination of nine jobs, and is preparing to make more, including a nearly complete cut-off of support for nonprofits, unless voters agree to support them with a temporary tax increase.

The county is asking for a five-year property tax increase of $4.20 per $100,000 in property value. The money collected from the temporary tax, about $800,000 per year, would be committed to health and human services and a few other nonprofit groups, including GrassRoots TV and the Nordic Trails program.

The ballot question is written so that the tax will end in 2006, and property taxes collected for the county general fund, about 9 percent of the total property tax bill, will return to levels that would have been in place without the increase.

John Masters, executive director of the community television station GrassRoots TV, said his organization also depends on Pitkin County for a significant portion of its budget. Without county support, the station will likely have to make do with fewer employees (there are only three) and unreliable equipment that needs to be replaced.

“All of our funding is local ? the whole idea behind community television is that it is supported and used by the community,” Masters said.

Masters, however, was reluctant to say whether he supported the county tax question or not. “We’re supposed to be apolitical,” he said.

A number of the county’s most apolitical organizations were gathered Friday at the Senior Center for a press conference called by Helping from the Heart, a new political organization formed to support the county tax question. The group’s executive director is Pat Fallin, and its treasurer is Jim Ward, both longtime residents who have been active in the community over the years.

“I got involved because I’ve been involved in a lot of nonprofits over the years,” Ward said.

None of the campaign funding for Helping from the Heart is coming from the budgets of the nonprofits that would benefit if the tax passes. Fallin said the campaign would, however, welcome support from individuals who support the work of the affected nonprofits.

In recent years, 28 nonprofit agencies have received some level of support from Pitkin County. A partial list of those agencies includes:

Aspen Basalt Care Clinic, The Buddy Program, Community Health Services, the Family Visitor Program, Mountain Valley Developmental Services, Roaring Fork Hospice and YouthZone in the area of health and human services.

Aspen High School’s Project Graduation, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, Healthy Mountain Communities, Independence Pass Foundation, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and the White River Conservation Project are among the community nonprofit groups that have been supported. Neither of the above lists includes every organization that’s been funded over the years.

Fallin said she expects the campaign to include a lot of door-to-door work aimed at informing voters about the situation.

Ken Canfield, a longtime visitor who moved here for good three years ago, said the county Senior Center, which would be radically transformed if the tax question fails, is far superior to anything he ever saw in California, where he lived previously.

“The Senior Center provides the leadership for a number of programs and activities we can participate in, and makes it possible to meet people,” he said. “Seniors are able to make connections with each other. As you get older, I think those connections are harder to make.”

A representative of Mountain Valley Developmental Services, which offers assistance to people with developmental disabilities and their families, said a loss of funding from Pitkin County will directly impact a number of clients living here. State funding cuts, he noted, have already strained the organization’s ability to maintain its services.

“We have people in Pitkin County facing these cuts,” he said. “And local support is a key to getting state funding; it determines what we get from the state.”

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]