Region pays taxes for child programs
EAGLE COUNTY ” How many child-and-family services will $2 million pay for? The answer is “quite a bit,” say those managing the money.
Pitkin and Summit counties, as well as the city of Aspen, all have money dedicated to child and family services.
In Aspen, voters approved a sales tax increase in 1990, and renewed the tax in 1999. Money from that tax increase is split evenly between affordable housing programs and the “Kids First” program, which sends money throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
While the amount of money available depends on Aspen’s sales tax receipts, Kids First has a budget of about $1 million per year.
That money pays for a director and the equivalent of three other full-time employees, one of whom is essentially a full-time substitute day-care provider.
The rest of the Kids First money goes in several directions, including help with parents’ day-care expenses, parent education classes, training for day-care providers, and extra money for those already in the business.
“We basically start where human services leaves off,” Kids First Executive Director Shirley Ritter said. In a system similar to college financial aid, Kids First gets income information from parents, then provides help based on a sliding scale of a family’s ability to pay.
That part of the program helps between 50 and 70 kids every year, Ritter said.
Besides helping parents, Kids First also tries to keep people working in the local day-care business, by paying bonuses every six months to those who stay on the job.
Those bonuses, paid based on education level and length of time a day-care provider has been on the job, can be significant, ranging between $250 and $1,500 every six months.
Kids First money also goes toward getting more facilities licensed and certified, Ritter said. Certified day-care centers can be eligible for other grants, Ritter said, something Kids First will also help with.
Home day-care businesses and centers that want money from the Kids First program apply to a volunteer board of residents. If requests match up with goals and objectives set by the Aspen City Council, the board can cut the check.
Pitkin County’s Healthy Community Fund also provides grant money for programs and services aimed at children and families.
That fund now gets its money ” about $900,000 per year ” from a dedicated property tax, but voters there this fall are being asked for an increase in that tax to $1.2 million per year.
About $200,000 went from the Healthy Community Fund to family-and-child services in 2005. But about that much also went into programs for senior citizens. Other pieces of the fund’s pie went to mental health, physical health and environmental programs.
Money from the Healthy Community Fund doesn’t pay the director’s salary, but goes into programs including family visits and the Aspen Youth Center, said program director Susan Berdahl.
Money from the fund also goes into Youth Zone programs in Garfield County and toward Mountain Valley Developmental Services, which helps developmentally disabled kids and adults in the region.
As with Kids First, a volunteer board reviews requests for money.
“They take their jobs very seriously,” Berdahl said. “Board members need to be Pitkin County residents, and they can’t be on the boards of any organization that’s asking us for money.”
Voters passed the first Healthy Community Fund tax increase in 2002, when the county was looking at financial shortfalls in its general fund.
The fund now provides money to 42 local nonprofit groups, Berdahl said.
“It’s hard to say exactly how many people we’ve helped,” Berdahl said. “But it’s safe to say literally thousands of people have benefited.”
While the programs in Aspen and Pitkin County have been running for several years, a new program in Summit County has yet to write its first checks.
Voters in Summit County last year narrowly approved a property tax increase to pay for early-childhood services including help to families to pay for day care, money to increase pay for those who work in day-care facilities, and money to either expand centers or improve facilities.
“I’m really happy it passed,” Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace said. “The only downside is that a lot of people think this takes care of everything, and it won’t. But we do have a stable funding source now.”
While the tax increase passed last year, government officials and people involved in existing early-childhood programs have been working on the contracts needed before any checks can be written.
Wallace said the original ballot language set out in detail where the money would be spent. One-third of the tax goes toward financial assistance to families.
There’s also little overhead. About $25,000 of the new tax goes to administration and an annual audit by an outside company. The director of the agency that will run the program was already on the county’s payroll.
While Summit County’s program is still brand new, Wallace said he’s anxious for the first annual report to come out.
“We’ll be able to show the public their money has been well spent,” he said.
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado
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