Vote 'yes' for Horizons

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A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members.

On Nov. 1, Routt County residents will have the opportunity to help some of the weakest members of our community -- those with mental retardation -- by voting for Referendum 1B. We think the measure should be approved.

The referendum would establish a 1-mill property tax that would raise about $850,000 a year for Horizons Specialized Services. This will cost residents about $8 per $100,000 in property value per year. Businesses will pay about $28 per $100,000 of property value.

Horizons provides services for children as old as 3 and to adults 21 and older. The tax would allow Horizons to expand its early intervention program with broader services for parents, supplement its family support fund to help families with the costs of keeping children with developmental disabilities at home, expand its adult day program and provide help to more individuals on its waiting list.

The latter is extremely important. Horizons has 22 adults on its waiting list. Most of those adults have been waiting a long time -- the average wait is five to seven years, the agency reports. If Referendum 1B is approved, Horizons will be able to move 11 individuals off the waiting list and into services.

Critics of Referendum 1B have argued that Horizons is but one of many worthwhile nonprofits in the county and that a tax for the agency sets a bad precedent. Many believe that charitable funds, not government funds, should be used to assist people with mental retardation.

But it should be noted that Horizons provides a fundamental government service by caring for patients with developmental disabilities. The agency receives federal and state Medicaid funding, but those funds have not kept pace with the increasing costs of services. And Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights limits the funds Horizons receives from the state.

That's one reason the state has allowed counties to establish property taxes specifically for mental retardation services. Several counties already have such a tax, including Douglas, Arapahoe, Denver, Larimer, Jefferson, Mesa and Boulder counties. Weld and Moffat counties, in addition to Routt County, are seeking a 1-mill tax Nov. 1.

Critics fear the tax will bring families here specifically to access Horizons' services and that tax funds will be used to assist people who are not Routt County residents. That simply is not the case. Given the length of time families must spend on the waiting list, it makes no practical sense for families to move to Steamboat to access services. Indeed, of the 22 residents on the waiting list, four were born here and 14 have been here for more than 10 years. Only two have been here less than four years.

Besides, Routt County commissioners have approved a resolution that establishes residency requirements for Horizons clients who will be helped by the tax if 1B is approved. If Referendum 1B passes, Routt County will be taking care of its own residents, not another county's.

Also, it should be noted that commissioners have stipulated that if Referendum 1B passes, Horizons will not be able to seek funds from United Way, the city-county Human Resources Coalition or other charitable funding sources. This will cost Horizons about $150,000 a year, but it will ensure that nonprofits that aren't tax funded don't have to compete with Horizons for scarce charitable dollars.

Horizons provides a noble service in our community. Its job placement, housing and other programs give adults with mental retardation a chance at a reasonable quality of life and some level of independence. And, allowing developmentally disabled residents to remain here only adds diversity to our community. Referendum 1B won't take care of everyone who needs Horizons' services, but it will help more of the weakest among us. Vote "yes" on 1B.

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