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County denies grant to historical society

Joel Stonington

Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday rejected the Aspen Historical Society’s plea to turn a $60,000 loan into a grant. In 2004, Pitkin County gave the struggling historical society $200,000, of which $60,000 was a loan. Today, the society requested that the loan be forgiven, even though taxpayers last year passed a property tax that would pump roughly half a million dollars into historical society coffers each year. The society, however, won’t start receiving income from the tax until April 2007. Some of the commissioners appeared almost offended when the request came before the board. Commissioner Mick Ireland said he cared about the society and reminded members of all the time he put in helping them during the election. “I’m not going to support this,” he said. “We gave a huge grant, huge, much bigger than anyone else gets. We paid $140,000. We fronted this organization an enormous amount of money. I donated my own time.”The commissioners’ vote was 3-2, with Ireland, Jack Hatfield and Michael Owsley voting against the measure.”Give me some real reasons, give me some specifics on why you’d like it as a grant,” Owsley said.Historical society members said a loan the organization will take this year from a bank to pay operating costs will run at $460,000. A grant from the county would reduce that loan.”It would allow us to reduce our debt,” said historical society President Jackie Kasabach. “We’re prepared to take care of those debts, but it would make life simpler.”That the historical society is planning to take out such a loan surprised some board members. “How would you be on sound financial footing if you are essentially borrowing your income of next year?” Owsley said.Ken Hammerle, the historical society’s treasurer, said there is a good amount of revenue coming in from gift shop sales and the board may be able to pay off the $460,000 earlier than the projected five years. Kasabach said the society raised about 25 to 30 percent more in donations than the previous year. After a long period when the historical society was suffering from a shortage of funds, the property tax now provides it with a permanent source of money. The $200,000 from the county and one-time emergency grant of $76,000 from the city kept the society afloat until the property tax passed. Also part of the long funding saga is the city’s recent rejection of the historical society’s proposal to sell 16 transferable development rights to other developers. The council said Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, who had donated the land, would not have wanted it subdivided, and therefore value was being created out of nothing. “It’s a shame that the transferable development rights program didn’t work,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said. “I really wish you weren’t asking for the $60,000 to be a grant. I think it’s just not part of the deal. We should honor where we started.”Hammerle said the commissioners’ decision would not put the society in jeopardy. “We try to focus our limited resources on organizations that have less access to fundraising,” Ireland said. “I love the historical society. I supported it from the beginning. I want to ration the scarce resources to the have-nots.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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