These are not nonessential services | AspenTimes.com

These are not nonessential services

These are hard times. Of that we can be certain. It is especially difficult when we realize there are things going on around us that we cannot control.

What of the things we can control or at least improve in our immediate environment? I would like to share some facts and provide information that may impact your decision making, and subsequently improve the quality of lives in our community.

Most of us know there has been a significant decline in Pitkin County sales tax collections due to national economic factors. This has resulted in a significant deficit that could lead to the elimination or reduction of programs and services in our human services agencies.

This potential loss will be devastating since we also expect new cuts as of January, 2003, in the state budget of $388,000. State funding has been declining steadily over the past six years and, for example, our mental health staffing has declined 33 percent since 1996. The consequences of these actions cannot be fully understood without reflecting on a few thought provoking issues.

The state of Colorado ranks last, dead last, in substance abuse funding. This sad statistic impacts the quality of community life as well as individual lives. Preventative programs can alter lives beneficially and avert serious consequences which can end up costing the state more money in the end.

State funding for mental health places us among the bottom five states in the U.S. and this was the case before the state fiscal crisis. This is particularly critical since suicide ranks high in Colorado and in our community.

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We do not want to see a couple going through a painful divorce or an egregious loss not be able to receive necessary mental health services at reasonable rates. Are we prepared to deny sufficient services to individuals with substance abuse issues? We don’t want to see an increase in the lower end of the fee scale, or a situation in which clients would be forced to wait for services because of insufficient staffing.

Can we really contemplate a further reduction in human services? Our county commissioners, by law, are forced to view these services as desired services, which in effect means they are not mandated or essential.

Does that mean they are not essential? I think not. I am certain that no one wants to see these cuts enacted, but, in the end, we all have to grapple with our bottom line.

So what’s to be done. I believe we need to understand a few things.

The words “tax increase” are unpleasant since we are all feeling the pinch, and do not want to hear about the potential for an increase. The state of Colorado pays lower property taxes than all but five other states ? that is, 47 states pay more. Our general fund mill levy is the lowest in this state.

The general fund, which encompasses human services, receives $26.20 per $100,000 in Pitkin, as compared to Vail ($57.20); Breckenridge ($60); and Garfield County ($85.40). Many of these communities are scrambling for larger tax increases for the same reasons.

On Nov. 5, Question 1-A will ask for a taxpayer increase of $4.20 per $100,000 in residential property value. This is really insignificant and here’s why.

For a house worth $500,000 we are talking about a $21 increase per year in property taxes. That’s less than a night at the movies for a family of four. A $1 million house will pay $42 per year while a $3 million house will fetch a $126 tax increase per year.

Commercial property or vacant land will be taxed $13.10 per $100,000 in value. Properties will pay less than a penny an acre.

This is a five-year, dedicated tax in which the money will be directed where it is most needed. Conversely, this tax will go away after five years in anticipation of economically better times. Most importantly, consider how this money will benefit and improve the quality of life here in Pitkin County.

We are discussing money for seniors, disabled children, troubled youth, drug prevention efforts and across-the-board mental health services for us all.

Please vote yes on Nov. 5 on Question 1-A, the Health and Human Services mill levy increase. You will be glad you did.

Elaine Sandler

Aspen

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