Aspen Historical Society worthy of tax support
October 12, 2005
The Aspen Historical Society is the repository of Aspen’s historic soul and deserves voter – and taxpayer – support in the upcoming election.The historical society is seeking help to pay for various endeavors, which range more widely than many might assume. The organization is fully or partially responsible for operating four historic properties – two museums and two ghost towns. It also serves as an educational resource for Aspen’s schools and manages a large archive of historic papers, photos, films and audio tapes. With three questions on the Nov. 1 ballot, the historical society is seeking taxpayer support to fund about a third of its $1.6 million annual operating budget.Referendum 5D asks voters to create a new taxing district, the Aspen Historic Park & Recreation District, which would have the same boundaries as the Aspen School District.The money question is Referendum 5E. If approved, 5E would give the new district authority to levy a modest property tax of 0.3 mills, generating $575,000 per year. For a homeowner, that equates to $2.38 a year for each $100,000 of property value.If voters pass 5D and 5E, the historical society will have the money it needs for year-round operations.The third question, Referendum 5F, is a so-called “de-Brucing” question that would allow the historical society to retain the excess tax funds it collects. Voters have granted similar exemptions from Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights to small tax districts that support hospitals, parks and other services.So why should taxpayers support this particular nonprofit endeavor, but not other nonprofits such as the Aspen Music Festival & School, the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation and other worthy nonprofits?People assume history in Aspen is easy to tap. Walk around town and there are old buildings everywhere. But that represents just one part of Aspen’s story. Other parts of the story can be found in the museums and in the archives, on the glass-plate photos and scratchy old audio tapes.It’s proven difficult over the years to raise enough money from donors to keep the historical society in the black. According to Executive Director Georgia Hanson, Aspen is not alone with that problem. Historical organizations around the country face similar dilemmas, and many rely on public funding.Making the situation more urgent is the Aspen City Council’s refusal to allow the historical society to subdivide its large West End property and sell off the development rights. The decision denied the organization a key source of income that could have helped pay down existing debt or create an endowment.Aspen’s rich history makes it unique among resort communities. The Aspen Historical Society’s programs, facilities and archives enable all of us to acknowledge and celebrate that history.Vote Yes on referendums 5D, 5E and 5F.