County: Hike taxes for human services


Elizabeth Freedman says the Emergency Family Assistance Association, where she is the director of programs, is a muchneeded safety net for area families or individuals in need. But recent cuts and a sharp increase in its caseload has her wondering just how much assistance EFFA will be able to provide in the future.

The program provides food, housing and financial assistance to lowincome people in Boulder and Broomfield Counties through donations from the public and funding from the counties and the state.

At a time when EFFA has seen a 28 percent increase in the number of families seeking help, the association’s budget was cut by $77,000, a significant amount for a service with an annual budget of $225,000.

“We never turn people away, but we’d be struggling to patch together assistance for families,” says Freedman. “When they hold us flat or cut our funding, it’s significant.”

Help could be on the way if voters pass a ballot issue approved by the Boulder Board of County Commissioners last week aimed at filling in the gaps created by state funding cuts. County Issue 1A asks voters to approve a 0.9 mill (nine-tenths of one mill) ad valorem property tax increase for a term of five years to “backfill significant gaps in state funding for human services.” Using current property values for Boulder County, the mill levy increase would equate to about $7 per $100,000 in actual property value (e.g., $21 for a property valued at $300,000) and is expected to generate about $5.2 million per year for five years beginning in 2011, according to a county press release.

Cindy Domenico, chair of the Boulder Board of County Commissioners, says the board has no choice but to act.

“We are statutorily obligated to support that effort with a mill levy tax,” says Domenico. “But the state is also obligated to provide assistance. Over the years, the state hasn’t met that obligation.”

At the county level, Domenico says, the need is 40 percent greater than it was only 18 months ago. The overflow, she said, goes to “our community partners,” such as EFFA.

Already the county has made deep cuts to make up for a $4.5 million deficit. Domenico says the county has cut staff and closed its Louisville health and human services office.

Barbara Halpin, public information officer for Boulder County, says $2.3 million of the revenue from the tax increase would be used for child care services.

“The emphasis is on kids,” says Halpin. “We’ve had to completely freeze [the county child care] program,” says Halpin. “There’s a waiting list of about 600 to 700 kids and it’s growing every day.”

Future state cuts, she says, will affect child protective services and child welfare services provided by the county.

Even if County Issue 1A passes, it would merely restore county services to the point they were before state cuts took place.

“It does nothing to deal with the increased case load,” says Halpin, adding that the recession has put more families in a position where they need help meeting basic needs, such as food and shelter.

Frank Alexander, director of the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services, says the county designed 1A to adjust to the downturn and recovery, ending when the need is gone.

The focus, he says, will be on lowcost intervention services.

“Front-end services cost less than the services needed when things get out of hand,” says Alexander. “We really believe in the ounce of prevention vs.the pound of cure theory.”

Domenico says she’s confident voters will see the need for 1A.

“The people of Boulder County have always been interested in making sure human service needs are met,” says Domenico. “Even though it’s a difficult time to do something like this, if we don’t make the effort now the future looks even more bleak.”