Pitkin County weighs community fund grants
November 10, 2010
ASPEN – Pitkin County will boost funding for emergency assistance next year to $40,000 at the start, after beginning with $20,000 this year that was quickly exhausted by struggling residents.
“We haven’t seen a slowdown,” said Mitzi Ledingham, the county’s deputy director of Health and Human Services and the administrator of the fund.
The money can go toward one-time assistance with such expenses as rent, medical bills and food purchases.
The allocation is one of 60 recommended by a Citizen Grant Review Committee that pored over 74 applications for funding from health and human service agencies, community nonprofits and senior services. About $1.9 million was requested, and $1.5 million has been recommended for allocation, Ledingham told county commissioners during a Healthy Community Fund budget review on Tuesday.
The budget dips into the fund’s unspent balance to the tune of about $123,000 to help meet requests, leaving about $150,000 that is unallocated. The Healthy Community Fund is supported by a property tax that is expected to produce $1.4 million in revenues next year.
That tax expires in 2012 unless it is renewed; commissioners have yet to formally decide whether to ask voters to renew it and for how much, though they have indicated that is their intent. The fund is currently supported by a tax levy of .394 mills.
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“We’ve really got to use this next year as a spring board to figure out what amount to ask [of] voters,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “That’s what’s really important to me.”
Commissioner George Newman noted some of the agencies funded with the tax proceeds are located outside of the county and questioned whether they are receiving funding from the communities in which they are based, as well. Those agencies generally provide services that aren’t available from a local organization.
“It’s a dilemma for us when we’re looking at these grants,” said Doris Downey, a member of the grant review committee. “We try to make sure a percentage of their clients live or work in Pitkin County and to make sure they’re getting funding from their counties.”
In weighing grant requests, the committee also looks for measurable results from the causes it supports, Downey said. Decisions about continued support, increased funding, less funding or no funding hinge in part on that consideration.
“They all say they do good work. They believe they make a big difference and they probably do,” she said. “We’ve gone from saying ‘that’s great’ to saying we need to see tangible evidence.”
Among the new requests for funding within health and human services that the committee granted was $2,500 to the Aspen Community Church to provide food, medicine and utilities vouchers to county residents, and $10,000 to Colorado West for detox services, provided in Glenwood Springs. Peak Parenting Center will receive $5,000 to train young adults with disabilities.
In the community nonprofit realm, the Basalt Chamber of Commerce requested $10,000 to help fund community events, but the committee did not recommend an allocation. Both Aspen and Snowmass Village have gone to voters to get money for that purpose, noted Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
“Basalt needs to grow up and do it, too,” he said.
Other requests that were rejected, mostly for not being within the scope of the fund’s mission, came from Colorado Mountain College (seeking literacy program funds), Digital Arts Foundation (for a children’s animation studio and art therapy program), Jazz Aspen Snowmass (for festivals and education), Mt. Sopris Historical Society (for museum and other expenses), Ute Foundation (sponsoring Utes to reconnect with ancestral lands in Aspen), Woody Creek Community Center (to purchase and produce food), Colorado West Slope College Fair at the Aspen School District (to support the fair), and the Roaring Fork Business Center (for business education and training, job creation and other goals). By far the largest of the denied requests came from the Digital Arts Foundation ($104,000) and Jazz Aspen Snowmass ($50,000).
Two nonprofits that are recommended for funding for the first time are the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation in Silt, which rehabilitates and returns animals to the wild, including wildlife from Pitkin County. It requested $5,000 and will receive $2,500. Committee members expressed concern that the foundation’s mission was geared more toward animals than people, though, and urged it to involve more people in the care of the animals.
The Thompson Divide Coalition requested $29,000 but will receive $5,000 for a water-quality report and educational campaign. Committee members expressed hesitancy regarding the coalition’s political agenda related to wilderness designation, but after consulting with the county attorney, agreed the water-quality efforts were appropriate for funding, they said.