Poll: Time is ripe to renew Healthy Community Fund tax

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County voters are willing to approve extending the Healthy Community Fund property tax, polling indicates.

The results of a telephone survey of 300 active voters indicates that a ballot question proposing extension of the tax is ripe for the asking, according to poll consultant Keith Frederick, who discussed his findings with county commissioners Tuesday.

The county can be 95 percent confident in the results, given the margin for error in the polling, he said.

Commissioners have pondered whether they should seek the extension this year or in 2012, when the tax expires, and whether they should ask voters to increase the tax, or seek an extension beyond its current six-year term.

Frederick urged commissioners to go to voters this year, particularly since the November 2012 ballot is likely to be cluttered with questions.

“I think with the numbers of support you’ve got now, you should go now,” he said.

Initially, 81 percent of respondents said they would be likely to vote for reinstatement of the property tax, which collects roughly $4.20 annually for every $100,000 of residential property value. After a series of questions that provided more detail about what the tax supports, the number of respondents who indicated they would support its renewal in November edged upward to 84 percent.

The Healthy Community Fund tax was initially authorized by voters for five years, starting in 2002. It was renewed in 2006 for six more years. This year, it will generate about $1.4 million that is doled out among a number of health and human-services agencies, supporting senior programs, protective services for children, help for battered and abused women, hospice care, mental-health counseling and a variety of other efforts.

In 2006, when Virginia-based Frederick Polls conducted a similar survey in the county, 82 percent of respondents indicated they would vote for reauthorization of the tax. It actually passed with about 70 percent of the vote at the polls, Frederick noted.

“We do find that people are a little bit more generous in polls than they are on Election Day,” he said. “But is your cushion big enough to say you will win? Yes.”

The poll also indicates that voters prefer extending the tax for another six years over bumping it up to eight more years. Among respondents who voiced support for the tax, sentiment was split on the issue of increasing the tax to $6 per $100,000 in property value versus leaving it at $4.20.

If the county decides to ask for more money, the reason for the increase needs to be well understood among voters, he advised.

“My word of caution is you have to get the word out,” he said.

County commissioners are scheduled next week to discuss what they should put on the ballot regarding the tax. Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested a tax of more than $4.20 but less than $6 be considered.

“We polled these numbers, but that doesn’t mean it’s $6 or $4.20. Maybe it’s something in between,” she said.