Where has Summit County’s Strong Futures money gone?
In 2018, voters approved a ballot measure that supported funding for wildfire prevention, early childhood education, recycling, building facilities and behavioral health resources. Here’s where the money’s gone since then.
Since Ballot Measure 1A passed in 2018, it’s accrued over $39 million which has been divided up to finance early childhood care, behavioral health programs, fire mitigation, recycling and public infrastructure around Summit County.
The measure was passed by over 60% of Summit County voters who supported a mill levy on properties, and the Strong Futures Fund was projected to raise $8.8 million a year for the next 10 years. Four years in, the measure has gone beyond that estimate.
Some community members were confused as to why so many focus areas were wrapped into one measure when it passed. Assistant Summit County Manager Sarah Vaine said, at the time, the community expressed interest in all five areas.
“These pieces were popping up as a need, and we just felt like the best way to address some of these is to get some funding for each one and come up with programs where we could move the needle a little bit on each one rather than focusing on the funding on one area,” Vaine said.
Since the measure was passed, it’s accrued over $11 million for early childhood education, over $8.6 million for behavioral health services, nearly $7.1 million for public infrastructure, over $7.5 million for recycling and over $4.4 million for wildfire mitigation, according to Summit County Finance Director Martina Ferris.
There’s a citizens advisory committee for each of these areas that provides input on where and how the money should be allocated. Vaine oversees the committees for early childhood education and behavioral health, Assistant Summit County Manager Bentley Henderson oversees the committees focused on wildfire prevention and recycling and Summit County Manager Scott Vargo oversees public infrastructure.
Early childhood education
One of the issues supported in the measure was increasing access to early childhood education. At the time, Vaine said that child care options were even more limited than they are now and that this measure’s goal was to provide immediate relief.
“There were families who, even if they could get a slot in a child care center, they couldn’t afford it,” Vaine said. “We know there’s not enough capacity, so there’s waiting lists. And there’s not enough slots for the kids that are being born and getting ready to go into school. We also know that even if there are slots, the cost for many families is the difference between paying rent or paying for medical care.”
Of the roughly $11 million accrued for early childhood, about $7.2 million has been spent with about $3.9 million sitting in reserves. Of the $7.2 million that’s been spent or is budgeted for 2022, over $5 million has been spent on tuition credits.
“The tuition credit is huge, and I remember right after this got passed, the (Summit Board of County Commissioners’) instruction was the minute Jan. 1 hits, we want this money to go to families so they can start feeling the benefit in January,” Vaine said.
Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, wrote in an email that the average tuition credit per student is $740 per month, and the range is between approximately $30 per month and $1,500 per month.
Other areas where this money has been spent is on data and evaluation, administration, special projects that includes outreach to current and new in-home child care providers, professional development and teacher compensation. For 2022, teacher’s compensation is budgeted for $746,750, the second highest expense behind tuition credits, which is budgeted for $1.8 million.
Of the roughly $8.6 million for behavioral health services, about $5.6 million has been spent or is currently budgeted for 2022, and over $3.2 sits in reserves.
When this measure was passed, the goal was to provide gaps in care. Some of those to have received funding include the Summit County Sheriff’s Office’s SMART program — known as Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team — which has received over $1.1 million. About another $1.1 million has gone to Building Hope Summit County to fund some of its programs. The Family & Intercultural Resource Center has also received $866,739 to provide its mental health navigation services.
Another $1.1 million has gone to some of the school-based mental health centers offered through the Summit Community Care Clinic.
The remaining money has been spent on substance use disorder services, suicide prevention and the new healing hub startup run by the Front Range Clinic that will offer group services, peer support, drop-in services, intensive outpatient therapy and more.
Of the $7.5 million accrued for recycling, over $5.9 million has been spent or is budgeted for 2022 and just over $1.6 million is sitting in reserves. Assistant County Manager Bentley Henderson said when the ballot measure passed in 2018, the community had expressed interest in setting rigorous recycling goals.
“The folks within the county had indicated that they wanted to try and look for opportunities for us to become better in our recycling efforts to have a higher diversion rate and to take the steps necessary to do that,” Henderson said.
Most of the money spent — about $2.3 million — is for the county’s recycling program.
“The recycling portion of our solid waste effort doesn’t pay for itself,” Henderson said. “That is a payment to the solid waste fund to backfill the expenditures associated with the recycling effort. When the program was initially conceived, … one of the primary messages that we tried to get out to the public was that in order to be successful in our recycling, we need to make sure the solid waste fund isn’t burdened by the recycling program.”
Another $2.3 million has been spent on capital outlay to make the county’s recycling efforts more efficient. This includes updating equipment at the recycling facility where all the materials collected from the recycling drop-off centers come to be organized, baled and shipped. In 2022, the county also plans to build a new recycling storage facility to store recycled materials and keep them from degrading.
The rest of the money has been spent on the county’s pay-as-you-throw program, outreach, recycling food waste and composting, repair and maintenance at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park and financing operations at the Silverthorne recycling center.
When voters approved 1A, the Buffalo Mountain Fire had just swept north of the Wildernest and Mesa Cortina neighborhoods. Henderson said this was a wake-up call for some community members.
“The Buffalo Mountain Fire occurred west of Silverthorne, and I think it really got people’s attention as to what the potential impacts of a large wildfire were,” Henderson said. “And so I think people’s senses were ramped up, and they had a heightened understanding of what could happen if a wildfire really took off in Summit County.”
Of the $4.4 million accrued for wildfire mitigation, just over $3.4 million has been spent or budgeted, and a little over $1 million is sitting in reserves.
About $1.7 million of this has been spent on supporting staff from the U.S. Forest Service, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Forest Service — as well as seasonal help — to conduct educational outreach and lead various fire mitigation projects throughout the county.
Other funds, specifically $328,507, have been spent on wildfire grants given to community members who will do their own mitigation efforts around their homes. Nearly $1.3 million has been spent on tree cutting projects in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service and about $84,515 has been spent on advertising.
The fifth and final focus area that receives funding from the Strong Futures Fund is public infrastructure. This area has accrued a total of $7.1 million, of which about $6.8 million has been spent or budgeted for 2022, and of which $361,921 sits in reserves.
Nearly $3.8 million has been allocated to county facilities, while over $3 million has been dedicated to child care facilities.
Summit County Manager Scott Vargo oversees this component of Strong Futures. He said that some of projects that received funding include renovations on the Summit County Main Library in Frisco and renovations on the county’s emergency services building.
Vargo said the project will repurpose the previous Summit County ambulance space into an upgraded emergency operations center, revamp portions of the 911 center’s administrative and technology space and create office spaces for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office special operations group.
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