August 1, 2018

SUMMIT COUNTY – The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to place a measure on the ballot to support wildfire mitigation, mental health, recycling, public facilities and affordable preschool. If approved by Summit County voters in November, the measure would raise about $8.8 million per year through a 4.7 mill property tax – a cost of about $2.83 per month per $100,000 of residential property value.

“There are several significant challenges that the Summit County community is facing, and we just don’t have the resources to tackle them like we should,” County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “This measure would help us move the needle on mental health, affordable child care and other key issues, so that we can be a stronger community.”

The measure would provide about $1 million per year for wildfire mitigation programs and strategies, including fuel breaks around neighborhoods, hazardous fuels reduction, street-sign improvements for responder navigation, fire hydrant line improvements, cistern installation, road upgrades for firefighting equipment access, secondary egresses from subdivisions, wildfire prevention patrols and public education on wildfire prevention.

“During the Buffalo Fire, we all saw the difference a fire break can have in our ability to protect a neighborhood,” Commissioner Dan Gibbs said. “We have a long list of projects like that in our Community Wildfire Protection Plan, and this funding would enable us to pick up the pace in checking things off the list.”

The mountain pine beetle epidemic caused extensive damage to more than 140,000 acres of forest in Summit County between 1996 and 2014. The community has also seen marked increases in its visitation and resident population numbers, with corresponding increases in new development in forested areas. These factors, combined with hotter, drier conditions resulting from climate change, have increased the potential for large, high-intensity wildfires that threaten homes, public safety, infrastructure, water supplies, wildlife habitat and recreation resources. Pre-disaster wildfire mitigation and prevention measures are critical to Summit County’s ability to minimize losses.

The ballot measure, to be listed on the Summit County ballot as Measure 1A, would provide about $2 million annually for mental health and suicide prevention programs and services, including additional mental health therapists in schools, intensive substance-use-disorder treatment services for youth and adults, specialized therapy for suicidal individuals, mental health professionals to accompany law enforcement officers on relevant calls, public outreach, support for individuals with serious mental illness and professional development for mental health providers.

“Unfortunately, we don’t see resources from the state or federal government coming to the rescue any time soon,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. “In order to address the very real unmet needs for mental health services, we’re going to have to do this at the local level.”

Summit County’s suicide rate is about three times the national average, and 27 percent of residents report having symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Demand for mental health services in local schools has nearly doubled over the last three years. Professionals and Summit County residents report drug and alcohol abuse as the most prevalent health concern in the community, yet local options for treatment are minimal.

Summit County worked with Building Hope and Mental Health Colorado through a yearlong community process to identify service gaps, areas of greatest need, proven strategies and cost estimates for mental health programs. The resulting mental health improvement plan serves as a roadmap to strengthen the continuum of local mental health treatment to ensure that youth and adults in Summit County can access quality care in a timely fashion.

The ballot measure would also provide about $1.7 million per year for recycling and waste-diversion programs and services, including expanded food scrap collection and composting, a recycling drop-off center in the Dillon-Silverthorne area, zero-waste stations in public buildings, collection of No. 3-5 plastics, mattress recycling, glass drop-off depots throughout the community and increased capacity for recyclable materials at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP).

The proposed waste diversion plan was developed by the Summit County Zero Waste Task Force, a group of stakeholders representing local restaurants, municipalities, resorts, residents, refuse-collection businesses, waste-diversion experts and the SCRAP. High Country Conservation Center facilitated the yearlong process. At full implementation and utilization of these programs, Summit County projects that the local waste-diversion rate would increase to 40 percent – nearly double the current diversion rate of 21 percent.

“We know Summit County residents and visitors care deeply about environmental protection and resource conservation, but our current funding model for recycling just doesn’t get us to the place this community wants to be,” Commissioner Stiegelmeier said. “These new programs and services will allow us to take a major step forward in waste diversion.”

The economics of recycling in the United States have grown substantially more challenging of late, since China banned the import of many kinds of solid waste and dramatically tightened its standards on contamination levels for recyclable materials. Prior to the ban, China processed at least half of the global stream of used paper, metals and plastics. There is now a glut of recyclable materials across the globe, and commodity prices have plummeted, reducing revenues for recycling facilities.

Measure 1A would provide about $1.6 million annually for repairs and improvements to extend the useful life of public buildings and facilities, including the repurposing of facilities to support Summit County Search & Rescue and Summit County Road & Bridge; expansion of the Summit County Emergency Operations Center, the Summit County Community & Senior Center and Summit County Library; and construction of new child care center(s) to meet growing capacity needs in the community.

“Summit County’s population has more than doubled since many of these facilities were first built,” County Manager Scott Vargo said. “With all this growth comes an increased demand for services. We have a facilities master plan that lays out the most efficient path forward for us to ensure that our operations are keeping up with those demands, whether it’s for public safety, snow removal, emergency management, community meeting space or any of the other services we provide to the community.”

The ballot measure would provide $2.5 million per year to ensure the affordability of early childhood care and learning for all Summit County 4-year-olds. The proposed sliding-scale tuition-assistance program was developed by a community task force that includes Early Childhood Options, Summit School District, Summit County, local child care centers, The Summit Foundation, the Family and Intercultural Resource Center and Early Milestones Colorado, a statewide organization that facilitates implementation of best practices by early childhood programs.

“There are three major factors that really put the financial squeeze on our local working families: housing, child care and health care,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. “This proposal would lift some of that burden. And just as importantly, it would also help to ensure that each Summit County child who steps into a kindergarten classroom is ready to learn, because he or she has been part of a quality preschool program during that critical stage of development.”

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