Voters approve Horizons tax

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Routt County voters decided Tuesday that the county will be among those in the state with a property tax benefiting people with mental retardation.

A 1-mill levy that will raise $832,000 a year for Horizons Specialized Services, a nonprofit organization, passed by a comfortable margin. The tax will cost homeowners about $8 per $100,000 of house value.

"We felt like we really made an effort, and it really feels good to get the response we did from the community," Horizons Executive Director Susan Mizen said.

More than 100 volunteers contributed about 1,000 hours to the campaign, she said.

Horizons sought the tax to help balance increasing operational costs and higher demand for services. State Medicaid funding has not stayed in line with the higher costs.

The Taxpayers Bill of Rights limits state funds for Horizons, but the state allows counties to establish property taxes for services for people with mental retardation.

Horizons serves five counties in Northwest Colorado, including Moffat County, where voters declined a 1-mill tax increase for Horizons clients there by about 300 votes.

"We're really disappointed with that, but we'll work with the situation," said Mizen, noting that, on the upside, Moffat County residents now are more aware of the services Horizons provides.

Currently, Horizons has 30 clients in Routt County. Twenty-two people are on a waiting list, and half of those need immediate services.

The agency serves young children as well as adults with varying needs, including 24-hour care.

Mill-levy funds will benefit programs including an early development childhood program and also support services for families raising mentally retarded children. The funds also will strengthen adult programs and offer more training for staff.

Based on the referendum, Horizons cannot seek funds from United Way and other charitable funding sources. Routt County commissioners made the stipulation to ensure nonprofits that aren't tax-funded don't have to compete for charitable dollars.

County commissioners will oversee the mill-levy funds, and Horizons will provide an annual budget outlining how the funds will be spent.

County commissioners also approved a resolution establishing residency requirements for clients benefiting from the mill-levy funds. Some critics had worried the tax might be used to assist people who aren't residents of Routt County.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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