Tuesday, August 9, 2005
Our county government provides critical services by regulating roads, public safety and land use. But when it starts regulating craft fairs and spaghetti dinners, it's gone too far.
On Tuesday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners approved the language for a ballot question asking voters to approve a 1-mill property tax increase to support Horizons Specialized Services. But, the commissioners did so with the stipulation that Horizons not be allowed to do any additional local fund raising if voters approve the tax.
Although commissioners' concerns are understandable, making no fund raising a condition of allowing the tax onto the ballot is not only counterproductive, it is outside the bounds of the commissioners' authority.
In a discussion about the tax last week, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said that because Horizons would have a stable funding source if the tax passes, it only would be fair for other human-service agencies to benefit from the donations Horizons once received.
Although it is true that there are many deserving agencies struggling to provide important services in the face of shrinking budgets, demanding that Horizons cease and desist holding benefit auctions or seeking funds from other local sources is unreasonable.
The county's role is to decide whether to put the tax on the ballot. It is up to voters to decide whether to support it.
If voters do support the tax, it then should be up to other entities -- the city, the county and United Way, for example -- to decide what additional funds, if any, to provide Horizons. Asking the agency to return to the commissioners and seek permission to do additional fund raising holds Horizons to a standard no other agency must meet.
Certainly, the staff and board of Horizons Specialized Services is well enough in tune with its communities to know when it is inappropriate or unnecessary to ask for additional funding. Those individuals sitting on the United Way Board of Directors and the Human Resource Coalition Fund -- two entities that Horizons would be barred specifically from soliciting -- have the wherewithal to understand the level of public funding Horizons receives and factor that into grant requests.
Horizons officials have asked for the tax because the organization is having difficulty meeting the demand for services at its current funding levels. It is impossible to predict its future funding needs, but those costs are likely to increase. The county's course of action effectively encourages Horizons to a tax increase before pursuing private funds to meet higher costs.
Plus, what kind of precedent is the county setting? Is this the new standard for nonprofit tax support? It certainly wasn't last year, when commissioners allowed the Museum and Heritage Fund Tax to appear on the ballot. In fact, we encouraged historic preservation leaders not to abandon their fund-raising efforts once the tax passed, knowing that the tax revenues alone would not meet our historic preservation needs.
We think voters are capable of deciding whether this tax is appropriate. We also think that if the tax passes, those same voters are capable of deciding whether they should give more to Horizons in the form of private donations. They certainly don't need the county to run interference for them.
We urge the county to reconsider and remove this ill-conceived stipulation from the ballot language.