Priorities out of line for city and county
July 11, 2011
If a government’s mission is the health, safety and welfare of the community it serves, why is the city of Aspen considering eliminating its health and human services funding, arguably its most important operating expenditure based on need and community impact?
Likewise, why does Pitkin County require voter approval every few years of an extra tax, the Healthy Community Fund, to provide funding for the same purpose?
While community members struggle and suffer under the weight of the worst economy in any of our lifetimes, elected officials rationalize with esoteric policy arguments about why it’s the other guy’s responsibility to take on challenge of serving the most needy. The city builds housing and subsidizes day care. The county controls growth and guards the sanctity of the urban growth boundary. The influential affordable housing and environmental constituencies – two critical voting blocks, appreciate these priorities, I’m sure.
But what do those efforts really have to do with the growing drug and alcohol abuse problems in our valley? How do those efforts assist community members struggling with mental health problems? How does preservation of a few more acres of open space benefit a confused and struggling at-risk teenager?
Aspen needs to preserve its “first dollar” funding (meaning funded from its general fund without needing a vote of the people), and should consider setting a policy to provide a percentage of its operating budget to this purpose annually. Its current funding level is less than 1 percent of its annual operating costs.
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Pitkin County should do the same and make funding its most important mission-based expenditure from its general fund as well, and ask voters for extra money to fund lesser things not as crucial to their core mission.
The city and county grant programs require greater accountability of the nonprofits they serve than either organization requires of any of its operating departments, meaning citizens can be confident that of all the government dollars spent, the health and human services grants are administered most effectively. And the city wants to stop this program?
Government spending will always be based on politics, but the effective governments also figure out how to make sure its community’s basic needs are met without turning the funding of those needs into a Barnum and Bailey side show.
It’s very simple. Help the people who need it most. Find your budget cuts someplace else.