Officials from the city of Aspen and Pitkin County are planning a “working group” that will form in January in hopes of resolving issues presented by the municipal government’s desire to reduce or eliminate its general fund grants to local health and human services organizations.
Representatives from the 23 local nonprofit organizations that received social services grants from both Aspen and Pitkin County governments this year are worried they could be left in a lurch if the city follows through with plans to eventually eliminate its general fund support of health and human services initiatives.
For 2013, the city cut its social services funding from $380,000 to $290,000, and plans to eliminate the expense altogether by 2015.
Pitkin County has a dedicated property tax, which brought in about $1.9 million this year, which it uses to fund the groups in a partnership with the city.
The city’s move has been called out by some who feel that social services funding should be a priority. To try and resolve the issue, Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick said he wants to have high-level meetings with county officials.
“The goal is not to decrease funding,” Barwick said. “It’s about the fairness of the tax structure.”
The municipal government’s position is that its funding of health and human services groups amounts to double taxation for city residents, since they already pay the Pitkin County property tax.
Barwick said he has some ideas about how more money could be raised for the programs, but he did not want to air them in the newspaper before meeting with county officials.
“I want to work toward solutions,” he said.
County Manager Jon Peacock said he hopes the two governments can figure out what future nonprofit funding will look like before 2014 budgets are set next fall.
“As a practical matter, the big decisions are providing some indication for nonprofits of what’s going to happen in the future so they can plan accordingly,” Peacock said.
He added that he’s glad “the city wants to have those discussions.”
The city of Aspen is of course within its prerogative to adjust its nonprofit appropriations, Peacock said, but he hopes the meetings would give the nonprofit community a chance to explain the impacts of defunding. Representatives of the social services organizations will be invited to the meetings, Peacock said.
Peacock also said he hopes the meetings would help the county understand “what problem we are trying to solve” — whether it’s the stability of the city’s funding source, other budgetary priorities, or some combination of the two.
Barwick said he plans to update elected officials at a Feb. 5 meeting with Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners.