Horizons seeks new sources of revenue

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— With a budget repeatedly hurt by state funding shortfalls, Horizons Specialized Services is considering new ways to bolster revenues, including asking voters to approve a mill levy.

Horizons has invited county commissioners from Routt and Moffat counties to its annual board of directors retreat Thursday to discuss options for raising the funds it needs.

"We really want them to understand that things are getting more and more difficult for us," Horizons executive director Susan Mizen said.

Last fiscal year, Horizons Specialized Services, which serves people with developmental disabilities, budgeted $3 million for all of its programs, but state funds came up $367,000 short, Mizen said.

The deficit was erased almost completely by local donations, grants, in-kind work and help from local governments, for which Horizons is grateful, Mizen said. However, Horizons is bracing for more shortages in state funding.

The state provides 88 percent of Horizons' budget -- mostly through Medicaid dollars -- and has not increased its funding in three years, despite rising costs for food, rent and staff, she said.

Staff workers start at $8.60 an hour, which makes it hard for the organization to compete for employees, Mizen said.

"We have been trying to make the best of it, but it has just gotten harder and harder each year with expenses rising," she said.

"What we have tried to do is to increase our fundraising and grant writing. We have been successful and it has really helped, but it just is not enough."

One option is to ask voters to approve a mill levy on the 2005 ballot.

County commissioners will have a chance to weigh in on preliminary discussions of such a measure at Thursday's retreat.

A state statute allows Horizons to collect a voter-approved mill levy for its services, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Because Horizons serves five counties -- Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand -- Stahoviak said county commissioners would prefer a mill levy be instituted regionwide.

"This is just a very preliminary discussion, I think, to kind of test the waters," Stahoviak said.

Many counties are not receptive to the idea of another tax, no matter how small or for what purpose, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

At some point, it's the job of county commissioners to gauge whether such a mill levy would be palatable to residents, he said.

Mizen said the mill levy is not the only option that Horizons is considering.

Another could be to run a for-profit business, or to increase fund-raising efforts. All of those options and other issues will be discussed at the retreat on Thursday.

The Horizons Specialized Services Board of Directors Retreat is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Carpenter Ranch.


-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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