County hosts public forums

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— Routt County wants advice from the people who pay its bills.

The county is hosting public forums for residents on how and where the county should spend tax dollars.

The community forums began Monday night at the North Routt Community Charter School in Clark.

They continue tonight at the Hayden Public Library, followed by a Wednesday forum at the South Routt Community Center in Oak Creek and a Thursday forum at Olympian Hall in Steamboat Springs. All meetings run from 7 to 9 p.m.

Specifically, the county is asking for direction on health and human service needs.

Health and human service agencies and programs in the county have distributed surveys to their clients to pinpoint areas of need.

Another 1,000 surveys were randomly mailed to residents. More than 100 people have already replied.

Fred Caruso of Denver's Caruso Group International is conducting the survey and heading up the community forums.

The countywide forums function similarly to the surveys. The meetings serve as another avenue to generate feedback from the community, Routt County United Way executive director Millie Beall said.

"This is yet one more way in which we might get response," Beall said.

Routt County United Way is facilitating the county's efforts to collect public input.

Given limited federal and state resources, the county must prioritize funding and make sure allocations go to agencies with the most need.

Beall encouraged residents throughout the county to attend the forums.

The public can play a large role in saying where their money is spent, she added.

The county, the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County United Way will incorporate feedback from surveys and forums into their allocation processes.

Community response gives local governments and funding organizations a barometer of the quality of health and human services in the county, Beall said.

On a scale of one to 10, the survey asks respondents to rate the importance of such services as prenatal care, preschool and child care subsidies, mental health, drug and alcohol treatment and hospice care.

Respondents are also asked to identify the three most critical services and the one service they would cut.

The final question is worded to determine how much is too much. Under federal guidelines, a family of four can make no more than $32,650 to qualify for federally funded services.

The Colorado average household income is $47,203. The Routt County average household income is $62,400.

Survey respondents are asked to identify the maximum income level at which a family of four in Routt County should no longer qualify for services.

"It's a pretty tough question," Beall said.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the survey and forums would help identify which services should be offered to the most needy in the county and what services should be available to the "working poor."

"It continues to be an issue and a question in our county," Stahoviak said.

Surveys must be returned no later than Oct. 15 at the Routt County United Way office or participating health and human service agencies.

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