Tax would help Horizons

When Donald Pearce graduated from Moffat County High School in 1983, his developmental disability could have made finding a job nearly impossible.

But shortly after graduation, Pearce went to live in a Horizons Specialized Services group home in Steamboat Springs. At the time, the only Horizons group home was at the east end of the valley.

Horizons helped him find jobs over the years, and now, he is working with other Horizons clients to help them find jobs.

His mother, Pat Pearce of Craig, said without Horizons, Donald wouldn't have had the opportunities he has had.

"If there had not been an agency like Horizons, this young man would have had to live with his aging parents," she said.

With state funding stagnant and operating costs increasing, Horizons officials say the organization needs to find new forms of income to maintain services.

Horizons' services include day care, housing, job training and transportation for people with mental retardation in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties.

On the November ballot, Hori--zons is asking Moffat County voters to approve a property tax increase of 1 mill to benefit Moffat County residents with mental retardation.

"We need support to stabilize our current programs," Horizons Executive Director Susan Mizen said.

Plus, Mizen said, Horizons wants to help the six people in Moffat County in need of services.

Horizons Finance Director Emma Bowers said in the last four years, state funding, which makes up 80 percent of Horizons' budget, has increased by about two percent. Meanwhile, operating costs such as food, rent and gas, have gone up by more than 10 percent.

The mill levy, which will appear on the November ballot as Referendum 1B, would cost about $12 annually on a house worth $150,000. Horizons would see their operating budget increase by about $350,000 in Moffat County.

The nonprofit has its finances audited by the state annually. If the mill levy passes, Mizen said, the organization will also be audited by the county.

Although the organization serves five counties, about half of the agency's work is in Moffat County.

Horizons serves about 70 clients in Moffat County, ages birth to 5 years old and people older than 21.

Horizons also provides support for families of people with mental retardation. Those services include financial assistance to offset medical costs.

Horizons has 15 adults on its waiting list in Moffat County.

Of those 15 people, Mizen said six need help immediately, and if the mill levy passes, all six will receive some level of support.

"It will depend on what level of support they ask for," she said.

Some adults need housing, and others can live on their own but need help with basic life skills, such as cooking, cleaning or budgeting.

"We'll talk with each family and figure it out," Mizen said.

Outside of the funding from the state, Horizons receives funding from local governments, including the city of Craig and Moffat County through the Moffat County Human Resources Council.

The group also is looking at ways to cut expenditures, Mizen said.

Later this month, some Hori--zons clients will move into a new group home in Craig. The new home will consolidate clients from three other homes.

By cutting back the number of homes, Mizen said, the group will decrease costs.

"We're certainly trying to help ourselves, too," she said. "But it's just not enough."

Fundraisers and grants also help, but Mizen said the group can't use money from grants or fundraisers to help people on the waiting lists, because they aren't permanent sources of funding.

Once someone is a Horizons client, they remain a client indefinitely. Some people stay with the group for decades.

The mill levy will provide a permanent source of funding that the organization can rely on year after year, Mizen said.

There is a similar mill levy on the ballot in Routt County, but money from the Moffat County mill levy will stay in Moffat County.

Opponents of the measure say funding for the nonprofit should be done on a volunteer basis, not through a tax increase.

In Moffat County's election information guide, which was mailed to every registered voter, nobody presented written comments opposing the mill levy.

But in the Routt County election guide, opponents say the mill levy will result in parents of disabled children moving to the area because tax dollars will pay for their children's care.

Under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, organizations such as Horizons are allowed to ask voters for a 1-mill property tax for people with mental retardation.

Similar mill levies have passed in Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Boulder counties.

Christine Burtt, a political consultant working with Horizons, also worked on successful campaigns in Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas counties.

She said the only difference between the mill levy in Moffat County and the other ones she worked on -- which all passed with at least 60 percent support -- is that Moffat County has a residency requirement.

"But the basic issue of how the money is used and why it is needed is the same," Burtt said.

Burtt hasn't worked on a mill levy for people with mental retardation that has been defeated.

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