Pitkin County Referendum 1A: Helping from the heart | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County Referendum 1A: Helping from the heart

Charles Agar

Art teacher Gerry Michel looks over a painting-in-progress with 96-year-old Getrude Ostermaier during an art class at the senior center in Aspen. Pitkin County Senior Services is one of 60 area nonprofits hoping for increased funding through Referendum 1A. (Jordan Curet/Aspen Times Weekly)

Sixty Pitkin County nonprofit agencies are asking for a six-year extension and $337,000 in additional money for the Healthy Community Fund. County voters will decide the issue as Referendum 1A on the November ballet.The Healthy Community Fund is a dedicated tax that supports nonprofit health and human service agencies in Pitkin County, one of two Colorado counties that subcontracts most such services. Previously, the county paid for essential services like community health, mental health and senior services through its general fund. But in 2002, voters decided by referendum to create a dedicated tax for these and other essential services.

Funds from the special tax cover 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.A citizen grant review committee reads proposals and makes recommendations to county commissioners about how to spend the money.Sue Smedstad, a volunteer with the “Helping from the Heart” campaign, which supports passage of Referendum 1A, said the funding is vital to maintaining a strong and healthy community.”If this does not pass,” said Smedstad, “then that means that the funding for health and human services normally provided for the county would basically go down to just the absolute most-essential services.” And even some basic services, she added, would not be fully funded. For example, if Referendum 1A fails at the polls, senior services, which receives a large percentage of the fund, would lose funding for education and exercise programs; it would continue to receive county funding for basic services like transportation and nutrition programs. Most other nonprofits would lose all county funding if the referendum fails.The fund is not only vital to keeping county agencies running, Smedstad said, but community support is like a “Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” earning the nonprofits matching state, federal and private funds.

The Healthy Community Fund currently supports 42 agencies with $913,000. If Referendum 1A passes, the fund would be raised to $1,250,000 to support 60 agencies. Residential taxpayers would pay $5.27 per $100,000 of residential property value – an increase of $1.37 over the current tax. The cost for a commercial property would be $19.20 per $100,000.”It would be hard for me to overstate how important the fund is to us,” said Marty Ames, director of Pitkin County Senior Services.The tax provides two-thirds of the funding for senior programs; it pays employee salaries and funds senior nutrition and exercise programs, as well as other classes and senior transportation.Trudy Ostermaier is in her 90s and has been studying art at the senior center for eight years.”I think it’s a wonderful program,” she said, adding she is happy to have something to do in senior housing (which she calls a “bore”).

Ames said that because the art class is not an essential service, it would lose funding if the referendum does not pass. As baby boomers age and the senior population grows, additional money is key to keeping senior programs alive. And Ames added that education, exercise and recreation are essential to healthy living. Gerry Michel, who teaches the weekly art class at the senior center, said that the tight-knit group will continue meeting with or without county assistance, but passage of the Healthy Community Fund would ensure the class’s longevity.”It’s wonderful that the city and county support the nonprofits,” said Catherine Ann Couch, director of The Buddy Program, an valley organization that matches kids with adult mentors. Although the Healthy Community Fund is not her organization’s largest funding source, Couch said the support is an important endorsement in helping her gain the support of other grantors.There has been no vocal opposition to Referendum 1A, but Smedstad said that passage of the measure is not guaranteed. She said people working in the nonprofit field have a strong “underdog mentality” and do not take anything for granted, especially funding.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com