Aspen Hope Center

The past few months have been a roller coaster for the Basalt-based Aspen Hope Center.

In late October, Eagle County tapped the organization as the Roaring Fork Valley recipient of at least some of the revenue that will be raised by a pot-based ballot initiative passed Nov. 7.

The referendum, Ballot Measure 1A, will impose new sales and excise taxes of up to 5 percent each on recreational marijuana — retail sales and grow operations — for the purpose of funding mental-health, substance-abuse and crisis-management services.

Though many specifics need to be worked out, it seemed like the Hope Center would stand to make over $100,000 a year from the pot taxes. For a nonprofit entity with an annual budget of about $860,000, that was big news.

But Wednesday, the Pitkin County commissioners formally entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the city of Aspen, Aspen Valley Hospital and the Aspen School District to centralize mental-health services in Pitkin County.

Since the Hope Center chose not to participate in the IGA process, it was pretty much left out in the fiscal cold and stands to lose $85,000 in 2018. And that was also big news.

The commissioners did soften the blow by voting to pony up the same amount of money, $25,000, it has given to the nonprofit on an annual basis. But there are no guarantees Pitkin County’s largesse will go past 2018.

Over a dozen supporters lined up to testify in the Hope Center’s favor Wednesday during public comment. The commissioners unanimously passed the IGA.

According to Michelle Muething, executive director of the Hope Center, which has been in business since 2010, the organization opted to forego participation in the IGA process out of fear of losing its autonomy.

The Hope Center, according to Muething, is the only freestanding crisis agency in the state.

“We provide mobile-crisis response, crisis prevention, crisis stabilization and programs that provide alternatives to hospitalization for those going through a crisis,” she said. “Over the course of the last several years, we have seen an average of 700 patients a year. In the last five years, we have had more than 50 people a year go into our crisis-stabilization program.”

The Hope Center’s crisis-stabilization program serves individuals who “come in with thoughts of suicide, plans and means to commit suicide and an intent to commit suicide,” Muething said. “We help stabilize the situation and keep the individual out of the hospital and help them heal right at home.”

Now, there are questions regarding the role the Hope Center will play in the overall mental-health and crisis-management scene in the Roaring Fork Valley — questions that may not be resolved until the partners involved in the IGA suss out their modus operandi.

What is not in question is that the Hope Center will no longer receive funding from the city of Aspen or the hospital. Aspen had contributed $10,000 a year, while the hospital contributed $75,000.

The partners in the IGA will enter into a contract with Mountain Family Health and Mind Springs Health. The $488,000 contract will be for 2018 only.

• Pitkin County will contribute $304,507.

• Aspen Valley Hospital will contribute $73,275.

• City of Aspen: $70,550.

• Aspen School District: $40,000.

Under the terms of the IGA, Mountain Family Health will hire four new employees — two to screen and treat people for behavioral health issues and two case managers.

Mind Springs will be able to create a rapid-response team consisting of a full-time therapist and a full-time case manager.

The Hope Center also recently learned that the supposed windfall from the new Eagle County pot tax might not be as writ-in-stone as previously thought.

According to Jeff Siegel, a member of the Hope Center’s board of directors, there was a recent meeting in Eagle County in which about 50 players in the area of mental health were told that each entity would have to make its own case for a piece of the pot taxes pie, which are estimated to raise about $1.2 million per year.

“They want us to prove ourselves,” Siegel said. “The county wants to get to know us.”

Siegel added that prospective recipients of those pot-tax dollars might not see any cash until the fall of 2018.

It might seem like a bleak picture, but Siegel remains optimistic that the Hope Center will emerge stronger than ever.

“The [commissioners’] decision to contribute $25,000 to the Hope Center was a great olive branch,” Siegel said. “I think they are interested in finding a way to continue to integrate the Hope Center into the crisis-management equation. The valley desperately needs a crisis-intervention center like the Hope Center.”

While not downplaying the loss of $85,000 for its 2018 budget, Siegel feels confident the shortfall can be mitigated — and maybe even surpassed — by donations from the private sector.

“Replacing that money will be a big task,” he said, “but I think we can recoup at least half of that by the middle of January through fundraising efforts. I think this situation will serve as a catalyst for our fundraising efforts. We as a team are used to facing challenges.

“I am hopeful,” Siegel continued. “I think that’s an appropriate attitude for a board member of the Aspen Hope Center.”

mjf@aspendailynews.com