County not ready for historical tax |

County not ready for historical tax

Eben Harrell

The county commissioners said yesterday they will probably not propose a property tax in November to bail out the financially struggling Aspen Historical Society.Instead, they are considering granting the society a short-term financial bailout from the county’s general fund.The commissioners said proposing a county tax specifically for a struggling nonprofit may set a troubling precedent for charities demanding similar taxes.The historical society had proposed a three-year property tax that would raise $370,000 for the historical society annually. The tax would collect $1.80 per $100,000 of actual property value in Pitkin County.The commissioners passed the tax proposal on first reading yesterday, but said they will likely reject it on its final reading set for Aug. 25. “I don’t think you can come up with wording for this proposal that will satisfy five BOCC members. Your best bet is an emergency grant,” said board President Dorothea Farris at the end of a 90-minute discussion.While the commissioners expressed their personal support, they said a countywide tax for an unaffiliated nonprofit may open a free-for-all of nonprofits asking for tax bailouts.”There are probably 30 to 50 nonprofits that could come to us and ask for funding through a tax. How do we tell them no, if we’ve said yes to you?” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.The commissioners also said the tax raised troubling issues of accountability. “If the voters don’t like how the money is being spent [by the society], they are going to blame us,” Commissioner Mick Ireland said.The commissioners said the best long-term solution would be to turn the historical society into its own taxing district, an arrangement the Aspen Valley Hospital currently uses to raise around $3 million annually. Such a taxing district would likely take a minimum of two years to establish.The commissioners said in the interim they would consider providing a one or two year emergency grant.”We need to know how much you need to keep operations running for the next year,” Ireland said.Hanson said she would provide such information at the second reading of the society’s proposal, scheduled for Aug. 25.The historical society oversees the Wheeler-Stallard House, Aspen’s museum, the Holden-Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, and the ghost towns of Independence and Ashcroft.The commissioners also approved on first reading increased property tax proposals for the Basalt and Pitkin County libraries yesterday. Both proposals passed without significant comment and will likely be given the final go-ahead on Aug. 25.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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