Summit County calls for new $8.8M tax stream to pay for wildfire mitigation, mental health services
Summit County’s Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday that added a measure on November’s ballot asking voters to approve a mill levy that would raise $8.8 million a year for a variety of county programs. The funds would provide for wildfire mitigation, mental health services, affordable early childhood care and education as well as revamping the county’s recycling program.
The 4.7 mill levy would raise commercial and residential taxes for county residents annually by $33.96 for every $100,000 of property value. So for a property worth $1 million, the owner will pay $340 in additional property taxes each year for the next decade.
The $8.8 million would be divided annually, with a guaranteed $1 million for wildfire prevention, $2 million for mental health services and suicide prevention, $1.7 million for recycling and waste diversion, $1.6 million for county infrastructure maintenance and improvements and $2.5 million for affordable early childhood care and learning.
For wildfire prevention, the $1 million would help fund fuel breaks around neighborhoods, clear-cutting projects for beetle-killed pine, better firefighting infrastructure and cistern installations in critical areas, patrols and other mitigation measures.
“During the Buffalo Fire, we all saw the difference a fire break can have in our ability to protect a neighborhood,” Commissioner Dan Gibbs said in a press release. “We have a long list of projects like that in our Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and this funding would enable us to pick up the pace in checking things off the list.”
The $2 million for mental health services and suicide prevention would go toward tackling a list of recommendations for repairing the county’s mental health system. The recommendations were conceived and delivered by Building Hope, a nonprofit with the goal of improving mental health care access and suicide prevention.
“Unfortunately, we don’t see resources from the state or federal government coming to the rescue any time soon,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said in the release. “In order to address the very real unmet needs for mental health services, we’re going to have to do this at the local level.”
For recycling, the county is trying to inch closer toward its goal of “zero waste” by improving and expanding landfill, recycling and compost systems. At the moment, Summit only recycles about 20 percent of its waste, but with the funding the county hopes to double that diversion rate to 40 percent.
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“We know Summit County residents and visitors care deeply about environmental protection and resource conservation, but our current funding model for recycling just doesn’t get us to the place this community wants to be,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said in the release. “These new programs and services will allow us to take a major step forward in waste diversion.”
The $1.6 million for public infrastructure would go toward improving facilities for several agencies including Summit County Search & Rescue and the county’s road and bridge department. Funds will also be used to expand the county’s Emergency Operations Center, the community and senior center, the library and the construction of new child care centers.
“Summit County’s population has more than doubled since many of these facilities were first built,” county manager Scott Vargo said in the release. “With all this growth comes an increased demand for services. We have a facilities master plan that lays out the most efficient path forward for us to ensure that our operations are keeping up with those demands, whether it’s for public safety, snow removal, emergency management, community meeting space or any of the other services we provide to the community.”
In addition to new child care centers, $2.5 million will also go each year toward a sliding-scale tuition assistance program for Summit 4-year-olds. The program was developed by a community task force made up of Early Childhood Options, Summit School District, the county, local child care centers, The Summit Foundation, the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, and Early Milestones Colorado.
“There are three major factors that really put the financial squeeze on our local working families: housing, child care and health care,” Davidson said. “This proposal would lift some of that burden. And just as importantly, it would also help to ensure that each Summit County child who steps into a kindergarten classroom is ready to learn, because he or she has been part of a quality preschool program during that critical stage of development.”
Only one citizen, Breckenridge resident Ken Wiegand, attended the special meeting on Tuesday and provided comment. Wiegand raised concern about another overall increase on property taxes, as well as why the issues are all being bundled on the same ballot question for a single levy instead of being separated out into their own questions, as each issue may have different levels of support.
In justifying the levy, Vargo pointed to the importance of addressing critical county needs and the fact that it will fall off in 10 years.
“These are all areas we believe are critically important to the community,” Vargo said. “The measures address affordability and accessibility for a number of critical county services. Everybody will have their opportunity to make a decision as to whether they support or don’t support the question.”
As far as why the issues are bundled into a single question, Vargo said that the issues were unified because of broad community support for every area.
“We believe that these are the top challenges facing our community, and each program area has strong community support,” Vargo said. “The board is not comfortable prioritizing any one issue over another, and believes this package as a whole will move us forward towards being a stronger community.”
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