Your tax dollars at work – but for how long? | AspenTimes.com
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Your tax dollars at work – but for how long?

Naomi Havlen

The county may be shelling out cash to health and human service agencies and nonprofits in need, but the source of all that money might not be around too long.The Pitkin County grant program gave out almost $1 million in grants and emergency funding this week. The program is supported by a five-year dedicated property tax that local voters approved in November 2002.Until 2002, the county funded nonprofit grant requests on its own, from the general fund, said Nan Sundeen, the county’s director of health and human services.But with the economic downturn that began in 2000 and was exacerbated by the terrorist attack in 2001, the county realized reduced tax collections would make cuts in discretionary programs impossible to avoid.But the commissioners didn’t want to discontinue contributions to the nonprofits that provide important services and opportunities.”We created a special tax to generate revenues for this, and the voters passed it, agreeing that we should have this tax just for five years to see if we can pull out of the economic struggle,” Sundeen said. But the clock is ticking on the funds, since in 2007 the county won’t have the tax to depend on anymore unless voters approve it once more.”We’re learning a lot about the value of the fund and the impact it has on the community,” Sundeen said. Within the next year the county commissioners need to decide whether to ask voters to renew the tax, or attempt to make contributions from the general fund. “The county is doing well, but taking on $800,000 to $900,000 could be a stretch,” Sundeen said.The grant program also earmarks a certain percentage of the tax each year for health and human services and other critical nonprofits suffering from state and federal budget cuts.This year, a total of $200,400 went to services like Alpine Legal Services, Aspen Counseling Center and YouthZone. Unfortunately, Sundeen points out, new agencies suffer from cuts each year and must plan ahead since they can’t benefit from the grants every year.”It’s been suggested that the emergency fund be cut back, because while it’s enormously helpful to agencies, it might be creating a dependency that we can’t maintain,” Sundeen said. “We’re encouraging agencies to find funding elsewhere, or make whatever long-term adjustments they have to.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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