Cartier: Ballot 2017: Ideas and accountability with taxpayer money (column)
And, so it begins … the promotion of great causes, which tug at our hearts but may not produce intended results. Despite implications to the contrary, increased taxes for education will not reduce tuition or add significant programs, only maintain existing ones; mental health is critical for this county, yet why, with millions of dollars in reserve, haven’t the commissioners at least begun providing these essential services; and rural broadband, telecommunications and cable services, something taken for granted everywhere else, is surprisingly not currently available in our rural areas, which encompass a large part of Eagle County? These are all worthy causes, so why would anyone vote against them? Money.
The greatest concern about new taxes is accountability and a recognition that indeed, nothing is free; everyone pays in one form or another. Those who do not support these issues are generally not against the good initiatives proposed, but rather, against the way funding is determined, controlled and distributed, to accomplish the stated objectives.
The most pressing issue on the ballot this election cycle is 1A, the recreational marijuana tax. The focus of the funding is to provide essential mental health services in Eagle County. Currently, the closest residential treatment facilities are located 2 1/2 hours away, on the Front Range or in Grand Junction. During a crisis, that distance can mean the difference between life and death. For many families, those miles create a logistical impossibility and thus, many necessary services are neglected, particularly when working with the psychological needs of our community’s young people.
When considering additional funds, via a new tax, we must evaluate the situation just as we would in our personal or business lives. Is it necessary, or are there alternatives? What are the specifics? How much will it cost? Who controls the collection and distribution?
What we need is accountability. When a proposal is vague, there is too much incentive for adapting circumstances to accommodate inaction. Yet, some situations are time-sensitive. The recent escalation of suicides in the county and the increased opioid crisis, means that delays are costing lives. We cannot put a price on that. Yet, what assurances are in place that the additional funding will be allocated as proposed?
Why aren’t current funds being utilized? County Commissioners have a multitude of programs to monitor and fund. Given the unpredictable nature of estimates, the diversity of issues that emerge, and the occasional conflict of information received, it the Commissioner’s obligation to hold funding until any conflicts are resolved. Any new budgetary proposals must receive voter approval. Thus, a proposal this size must be put to vote.
With accountability in mind, Chris Lindley, Eagle County’s director of public health, has assembled a group of some of the most expert professionals in the state. These are individuals and organizations whose leadership in the field of mental health are unsurpassed. It also includes members of law enforcement, who believe that many of our community’s most needy end up incarcerated when their best hope for a promising future would be better achieved in a medical setting rather than a punitive one.
This advisory council would be directly involved in the allocation and distribution of the first $1.2 million in funding, with direct oversight and accountability of implementation. While final decisions are made by the county commissioners, in this case, the decisions are not theirs alone.
The program is structured to include specific personnel to be hired immediately, with three assigned to schools serving our most vulnerable population: children. Another designated professional will provide mental health services and act as liaison to those whose inappropriate behavior has landed them in jail.
Currently, the Eagle County Detention Center is the only residential facility offering any type of psychological treatment, and we can all agree that is not the ideal environment for improved mental health.
Voting “yes” on 1A will be different than other tax initiatives in its transparency and accountability, which comes from this private citizen Advisory Board; a group of mental health specialists. The list of board members is on the website: http://mentalhealth voteyes.com/total-health-alliance. All board meetings are open to public participation, providing complete transparency that money is being allocated as prescribed.
And while the building has not been designated yet — only because there are multiple options with different funding requirements — there is potential of specified treatment centers. In addition, new stakeholders are desiring to participate and offer potential resources to cover new services not anticipated in the initial proposal.
There will be some temporary beds designated in the interim, currently being evaluated. This initiative provides an excellent model of a public-private partnership designed to improve the emotional and psychological health of our entire community … Making Eagle County an exceptional place for everyone to realize their dreams of a wonderful future.
Jacqueline Cartier, of Avon, is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.