Historical society may need bailout
The financially struggling Aspen Historical Society is mulling a property tax measure as a last-ditch effort to keep its doors from closing this fall.Members of the society’s board of trustees, including Pitkin County Commissioner Shellie Roy, approached commissioners Tuesday to gauge their support for a tax question in November.”I mean, are you amenable to that, or are we wasting our time?” asked Georgia Hanson, the society’s executive director.Commissioners invited the society to return next week with a drafted ballot measure for their consideration, but made no promises to place a hastily prepared mill levy proposal before the county’s electorate.”What does it say about us doing our homework and preparation? I just think we’re rushing this,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “As horrible as it sounds, maybe the historical society will have to close to get the message out there: ‘Hey, community, we need your help.'””I don’t want to see you close your doors this year, but the worst thing you can do is go to the voters, get beat and then close your doors,” added Commissioner Mick Ireland. “Then it’s really difficult to come back.”A countywide tax requires a broader mission than simple operational support for the Aspen Historical Society, commissioners and society representatives agreed. Commissioner Dorothea Farris pushed for an analysis to determine what county historical sites could be acquired or maintained with the tax proceeds. Members of the Redstone community have mulled a tax measure to help preserve the Redstone Castle as a public, historic treasure, she noted. The stately home is currently in the hands of the Internal Revenue Service.A tax that supports a new Pitkin County Historical Society, which would then allocate revenues to various nonprofit efforts, including the Aspen Historical Society, could be the answer, Hanson mused.The society is not be looking for a big tax, but something that generates $1 to $1.50 per $100,000 of assessed property value, board members said. A short-term tax has also been discussed.The society ended its last fiscal year in October about $50,000 in the red for operations, though it has a healthy balance of restricted funds. Now, the society is about $126,000 in the hole and the board of trustees agreed this week to borrow from its restricted funds to keep operating. “The board agreed, if we can’t get a tax question passed, we have to close the doors,” Roy said.Memberships haven’t produced the stream of income that the society needs to meet its expenses, she said.The historical society oversees the Wheeler-Stallard House, Aspen’s museum and site of the society’s archives; the Holden-Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum; and the ghost towns of Independence and Ashcroft.The society’s board has decided it can’t afford to operate beyond September, given its current financial situation, Roy said.”It’s do-or-die for us,” added board member Jenna Weatherred, publisher of The Aspen Times.”We’re operating at a deficit. The doors will close this fall,” she said. “Jack, I agree, maybe that’s what we need to do.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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