Sheriff DiSalvo angry over city decision on fee for golf tourney |

Sheriff DiSalvo angry over city decision on fee for golf tourney

Organizers of today's fundraiser for the Aspen Hope Center, to be held at Aspen Golf Club, must pay $10,000 to the city to have exclusive use of the course.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The city of Aspen has refused to waive a $10,000 fee for a nonprofit fundraiser at the Aspen Golf Club today and the host of the event is seriously unhappy.

“I’m angry,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo. “When (a fundraiser) has to do with community health, there should be little or no cost to use public amenities.

“I think it’s a little misguided to give for-profits a break and make nonprofits pay.”

The tournament, scheduled for noon to 5 p.m., benefits the Aspen Hope Center, a crisis-intervention organization that provides suicide-prevention counseling, grief and trauma counseling and other mental-health services.

However, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said the denial, which was made by city staff and supported by him, has nothing to do with supporting the Aspen Hope Center.

“We have 240 nonprofits claiming Aspen as home,” Skadron said. “Every one needs to raise money.

“We have a nonprofit industry here.”

And many of those nonprofits want the city to donate public parks or other amenities like the golf course to use for those fundraisers, he said.

“Having the City Council be the arbiter of which social service is more important than another … is not a place I want to put the council,” Skadron said. “Joe’s upset because I didn’t agree with him.”

DiSalvo said he’s particularly incensed in light of statements by City Council members last week that they will waive an $80,000 fee and allow Aspen Skiing Co. to use Wagner Park for free for 11 days during the World Cup Finals in March.

“Needless to say, that didn’t feel good to me,” DiSalvo said. “Those are the people that should pay.

“Food & Wine does nothing to benefit community health. That’s a for-profit company.”

The Food & Wine Classic does not pay a fee to use Wagner Park, though it does to resod the field, said Jeff Woods, Aspen’s parks director.

Steven Aitken, director of golf at Aspen Golf Club, said one reason for the lack of a fee waiver for the Hope Center tournament is that it’s happening during the high season. Most of the time, he said he tries to schedule nonprofit-type fundraisers outside the high season, when the golf course makes most of its money.

“We need that money to raise revenues expected of the department,” Aitken said.

The Aspen Golf Club is a so-called enterprise fund, meaning it’s more like a city business that must make money or break even, Skadron said.

Further, Skadron said it’s unfair to compare the World Cup waiver to the Hope Center situation.

“If Joe wants Wagner Park in March for a one-time event, he can have the fee waived,” he said. “There’s (usually) no competing use for that space (at that time).”

The situation with nonprofits constantly asking for handouts from the city is the impetus behind an upcoming City Council work session in which council members will talk about how to decide who gets what, Skadron said. Solutions might include a lottery system or other such arrangement, he said.

“The Hope Center has a very important mission,” Skadron said. “Mental-health issues are a problem in this valley. But saying the city doesn’t support that mission is false.”

The city gave the Hope Center $5,000 in grant money this year, according to online city records. Pitkin County, through the Healthy Communities Fund, is slated to give the organization $25,000 a year for the next three years, said Michelle Muething, the Hope Center’s executive director.

The Hope Center’s $580,000 annual budget is funded mainly through private donations, Muething said.

“We survive hand to mouth,” she said. “We have to scrounge for money on a regular basis. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say I pay for golf or payroll.”

The organization, based in Basalt, is mobile, meaning clinicians go to suicidal or traumatized people and provide counseling both immediately and down the road, Muething said. For example, Hope Center clinicians counseled a man who gave CPR to a 4-year-old who drowned recently at Ruedi Reservoir and sat with a woman whose husband died in a rafting accident for 14 hours at Aspen Valley Hospital until a family member arrived, she said.

“We are a crisis-intervention agency,” she said, adding that the organization also conducts programs in Roaring Fork Valley high schools related to mental-health issues. “Half of what we do no one knows about.”

DiSalvo is a big believer in the Hope Center because police officers and sheriff’s deputies routinely call the organization’s clinicians to deal with mental-health crises they encounter.

“I don’t know of another organization that can react as quickly to a local person’s need for mental-health advice,” DiSalvo said. “This is someone to say, ‘You’re going to be OK, and it won’t cost you anything.’”

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