Pitco tax hike passes | AspenTimes.com

Pitco tax hike passes

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A proposed property tax increase that will supplement local health and human services programs was overwhelmingly endorsed by Pitkin County voters Tuesday.

Referendum 1A was approved by 70 percent of voters ? of the 5,952 ballots tallied, 4,187 approved the tax increase, compared to 1,765 votes against.

News of the approval was heralded by a group of health and human services providers gathered last night to await the vote.

“I never lost faith. I always knew the community would come through,” said Marty Ames, executive director of Pitkin County Senior Services.

Her relief was obvious ? she would have served as her organization’s sole employee had Referendum 1A been defeated and the county continued its budget cuts.

The measure, which comes amid a county budget crisis, will fund local health and human services and provide donations to select area nonprofits. Officials announced earlier this year that the county is suffering from a nearly $2.5 million general fund deficit. Sales taxes and other fees collected for the general fund have suffered due to declining tourism and a national recession.

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The county reluctantly labeled health and human services programs as expendable unless its proposed tax increase was approved by voters. Programs dedicated to senior citizen health, counseling for at-risk youth, prenatal care and family planning, and services for the developmentally disabled were wrapped in the Referendum 1A package. Secondary county programs such as public television and the nordic trail system were also at stake.

In light of the referendum’s approval, property taxes will increase for the next five years, raising $800,000 for health and human service programs annually. The amount includes $200,000 to make up for a number of state and federal budget cuts already felt in Pitkin County.

The annual amount raised will not be added to the county’s general fund, but instead be directly used by selected programs. The referendum also provides for a citizen board that will allocate funds generated by the tax increase.

The approved increase will cost Pitkin County homeowners an estimated $4.20 per $100,000 in property value, while businesses will be taxed an extra $12.60 per $100,000 of value. Vacant land and commercial property would cost an extra $13.10 per $100,000 worth of property.

Ames shared a toast and a few congratulatory hugs with other health and human services providers Tuesday night during a celebratory dinner at the Cantina. It was more than just a few county services on the chopping block with Referendum 1A ? it put the jobs of Ames’ co-workers and peers at stake.

“I have two staff members, and they’ve really been suffering since July, not knowing if they would continue to have jobs or not,” Ames said.

Nan Sundeen, the county’s community resource director, also celebrated Tuesday’s vote, saying it helped reassure Pitkin County’s health and human services providers of the significance of their work.

“I’m very happy and very relieved,” Sundeen said. “I believed that health and human services and nonprofits were really important to the community, but we’ve never had a clear message.”

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]