Voters to decide on longer, higher Healthy Community Fund tax | AspenTimes.com

Voters to decide on longer, higher Healthy Community Fund tax

Pitkin County commissioners decided Tuesday to ask voters to reapprove a property tax in November that funds important public health efforts and community wellness in general at a higher rate and for a longer period of time.

That means that if voters again give the thumbs-up to the Healthy Community Fund, the tax will last for nine years instead of six and will generate $7.02 per $100,000 of assessed property value instead of the current $5.40.

"The difference between six and nine years is so small, I don't think it will be an impediment to (voters)," Commissioner George Newman said.

Newman and Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper both said they supported the mill-levy increase, as well, which was recommended by county health and human services staff to plug gaps in services and to pay for continuing public health efforts.

Commissioners Greg Poschman and Steve Child did not object to making the changes to the fund, while Commissioner Rachel Richards was out of town.

The Healthy Community Fund was first approved by voters in 2002 and reauthorized in 2006 and 2011. Each time was for six years, though county officials previously went back to voters early for reauthorization.

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Nan Sundeen, the county's health and human services director, said staff decided to recommend a longer term this year because the tax has a track record of voter approval and because the nine-year term will make it easier to structure three-year partnership grants that are often approved for valley nonprofits. The longer term will provide more funding security for those nonprofits, Sundeen said.

"It's difficult for them all to gear up every six years," she said.

The higher mill levy is necessary because of a $370,000 gap between federal and state public health funding mandates and funding for desirable services in the upper valley, Sundeen said. Currently, the Healthy Community Fund pays for $1.7 million in mandated funding and $1.1 million in the services desired by the community, she said.

Much of the $370,000 would be spent on further mental health and substance-abuse efforts as well as homeless and affordable-housing programs, Sundeen said.

The increased mill levy would generate just over $3 million, which is enough to cover the mandates, the desired services and the gap, she said.

The Healthy Community Fund paid for services that helped 25,000 people in 2011. That number rose to 55,000 people in 2017, said Mitzi Ledingham, another health and human services official.

Newman pointed out that those numbers obviously assume that one person or family is receiving more than one service as 55,000 exceeds the population of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Commissioners also decided Tuesday to designate a percentage of the fund to pay for mandated public health programs. That number is yet to be decided. Senior services in the county are currently funded in a similar manner, with 21 percent of the fund going toward that segment of the community each year.

Finally, board members reiterated their support for the fund's priorities, which include family and youth well-being, physical and public health, mental-health and substance-abuse prevention, seniors and cultural treasures and environmental quality.

Certified ballot language for the Healthy Community Fund reauthorization must be into the county clerk's office by Sept. 7, Sundeen said. Commissioners will approve ballot language on first reading Aug. 7 and hold a public hearing on the issue Aug. 22.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

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