County has right idea to preserve Aspen Historical Society |

County has right idea to preserve Aspen Historical Society

Aspen Times writer

The Aspen Historical Society deserves the opportunity to convince local taxpayers why they should step up their support for historical preservation.After many years of mismanagement and two name changes – from the Aspen Historical Society to HeritageAspen and back to the Aspen Historical Society – it’s come down to crunch time for this quietly influential nonprofit.Two years of triage have not helped. The leadership and hard work of longtime local Georgia Hanson and a new board of directors has not been enough to fully check the historical society’s financial decline. But that isn’t to say they haven’t tried.According to Hanson, the annual budget has fallen from about $600,000 to around $200,000. Where there were once seven mostly full-time employees, there are now only Hanson and a few part-timers. For two summers, the historical society has worked hard to boost donations and membership levels. But potential donors have already been inundated with requests from other, more visible nonprofits, and bailing out the historical society is a tough sell.Earlier this summer, the historical society was ready to close its doors for good. In a last-ditch effort, its board of trustees asked the Pitkin County commissioners to put a question on the November ballot asking voters for a property tax dedicated to the historical society.The commissioners responded with a different idea. Rather than have the county collect taxes to support a single nonprofit – which could set a disturbing precedent – the commissioners suggested the historical society spend the next year building a proposal for a special taxing district, with property tax revenues dedicated to historical preservation and an elected or appointed board to oversee spending.Voters will have the final say as to whether they support the historical society and its work – historical interpretation at the ghost towns of Ashcroft and Independence, the mining history museum at the Marolt barn, the Wheeler-Stallard house in the West End, the archive of photographs and newspapers, and the education programs for people of all ages. And that makes sense.Kudos to the county government for providing the historical society the guidance it needs in this desperate situation. Double kudos to the county for putting its money where its mouth is and tentatively agreeing to donate approximately $100,000 to the society’s operating budget.When the same question comes before the City Council, it too should step in with financial support and whatever good advice it has to offer.

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