Pitkin County renews, hikes Healthy Community Fund tax | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County renews, hikes Healthy Community Fund tax

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County voters not only approved the extension of the Healthy Community Fund tax on Tuesday, but endorsed an increase in the property tax, which augments funding for health and social services and a host of area nonprofits.

Referendum 1A passed handily, with about 60 percent of the vote, in a mail-only election that saw a nearly 39 percent voter turnout, according to the county’s clerk and recorder’s office. Voters, by a 2,485-to-1,619 margin, approved collection of the Healthy Community Fund tax for another five years, starting in 2013. First approved in 2002 and renewed in 2006, the tax was set to expire at the end of next year.

County commissioners decided to seek its extension, as well as an increase, in this off-year election, rather than pit the Healthy Community Fund against other measures in what is expected to be a crowded general election ballot a year from now.

Commissioner Rachel Richards, who advocated increasing the tax, conceded she wound up worrying that voters would react negatively to the hike.

“Especially in the last few weeks, you tend to second-guess yourself,” she said.

Richards said she was grateful for the community’s continued support of the tax, without which the county would likely be able to fund only basic health and human services and certain senior programs, at the expense of other county needs, such as roads.

“We’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “For me, personally, it’s the difference between the we’re-all-in-this-together mentality and the you’re-on-your-own mentality.”

The increased tax will generate up to $1.9 million annually, providing an additional $464,000 for the organizations it helps fund. Starting in 2013, it will cost taxpayers about $5.55 per $100,000 of residential property value, an increase of $1.30 per $100,000 over the existing tax that supports the Healthy Community Fund.

This year, the tax provided grants totaling $1.5 million to more than 50 organizations and put $40,000 into the county’s Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps applicants make rent and utility payments, buy food or meet other expenses in one-time emergencies. The emergency fund has seen a spike in requests, and the demand for other services has been on the rise with the economic downturn.

Requests for public assistance in Pitkin County are up threefold since 2008, according to Nan Sundeen, director of health and human services. Healthy Community Fund dollars don’t go to public assistance, but the demand is an indicator that times are tough, she said.

Many of the nonprofits funded with the tax are partners that complement the services provided by the county, Sundeen said.

Requests for Healthy Community Fund grants have increased from 38 in 2002 to 77 this year; 71 among the latest round of requests have been recommended for funding and 10 of them are new. Six of the newly recommended grant recipients provide emergency assistance of some sort, Sundeen said.

The nonprofits that receive funds include those that provide services for children and the disabled, help in the areas of mental health and substance abuse, education and senior services. Grants also go to efforts such as environmental conservation and leadership programs.

Also winning voter approval Tuesday were three other referendum questions posed by the county.

Referendum 1B, approved with a vote of 3,146 to 853, allows the expanded use of an existing tax that funds the county’s FM and TV translator system. Voters authorized use of the proceeds to pursue wireless technology and Internet services if the technology is available and affordable.

Referendum 1C, a “housekeeping item” to amend the county’s home-rule charter, won approval with a 2,765-to-858 vote. It clarified eligibility for some county offices, and addressed inconsistencies and ambiguities between the charter and state election law.

Referendum 1D, also proposing charter amendments, passed 1,995 to 1,038. It cleans up ambiguous, obsolete and conflicting provisions in the document. Perhaps most notably, it reduces requirements for the publication of county ordinances and resolutions in a newspaper.