Horizons' request approved

County commissioners support group's ballot question


The Routt County Board of Commissioners needed convincing before it supported a ballot question asking voters to contribute 1 mill to people with mental retardation who use Horizons Specialized Services.

At Tuesday's meeting with Horizons officials, commissioners said they would support the 1-mill levy but advised the nonprofit to provide solid numbers to the community before the election.

Horizon officials had asked the commissioners to approve a November ballot question asking voters for a property tax to fund services for people with developmental disabilities. Previously, commissioners had questioned whether 1 mill was needed and recommended going for half the amount.

"It is a hell of a lot of money," Commissioner Doug Monger said. "I guess we should move forward and let the voters approve it."

The mill would raise $792,000 a year and cost homeowners $7.96 a year for every $100,000 of assessed value.

Horizons Executive Director Susan Mizen said the entire mill is needed, and even that amount would not be enough to help all the clients on Horizons' waiting list.

"If we ask for half a mill now, we are going to be back here in two to three years in exactly the same position we are now," Mizen said. "That is why we are hoping you let us take that risk of failing because we asked for too much."

The combination of a growing population with more needs, an aging population of caregivers, decreasing funding from the state and increasing costs of providing care has left Horizons strapped for funding, officials have said.

Currently, Horizons, which serves the developmentally disabled in five counties in Northwest Colorado, has a waiting list of 55 clients. Routt County has a waiting list of 22 people and a waiting period of seven to 15 years before services can be provided to them.

"I personally don't feel strongly one way or the other about the 1 mill or half mill," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "I do believe when you say you could be back in a few years for another half mill."

Stahoviak was adamant about not allowing Horizons to continue to do fund-raising --including events and direct mailings -- if voters approved the mill levy. Because Horizons would be receiving a stable revenue source, Stahoviak said it would only be fair for the other human-resource agencies to benefit from the donations Horizons once received.

The commissioners said that if Horizons received the tax and still thought fund-raising was necessary, it would have to come back to the commissioners on a case-by-case basis for permission to raise funds.

Commissioner Doug Monger said he did not want the tax to lead to a situation in which people with developmental disabilities would move to Routt County because they could enter a program faster than they could in other areas.

"We have a huge concern about being a depository," Monger said.

Mizen said that even with the tax, a waiting list would remain and, in all likelihood, clients would have to wait a year or longer before being eligible for Horizons' services. Those families that have clients with severe needs would have trouble getting by without support for that year, Mizen said.

A more realistic possibility would be for families to move to Routt County when future clients are in middle school and high school, she said, to place their children's names on the waiting list.

Stahoviak questioned what Horizons would do with the additional money the tax would leverage with federal funding. Mizen said federal funding could match 85 percent to 95 percent of the money raised through the 1-mill levy, but that money would most likely go to those further down the waiting list.

Commissioners are scheduled to approve next week the official ballot language and resolution for the Horizons property tax.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com


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