Pitco wary of historical tax getting crushed | AspenTimes.com

Pitco wary of historical tax getting crushed

Janet UrquhartAspen Times writer

A three-year property tax to keep the Aspen Historical Society afloat apparently has the personal support of Pitkin County commissioners, but that doesnt mean theyll pitch it to the voting public.Commissioners demanded details Tuesday about what the public would get for its tax dollars, delaying until next week a decision on whether to put the proposed tax on Novembers ballot.Im not ready to say no, Commissioner Jack Hatfield concluded.I support the idea, but then again, I dont want to send you out to get crushed, added Commissioner Mick Ireland. Im really loath to go to the voters based on what Im being presented here, because I have a lot of questions.The societys board of trustees is proposing a three-year mill levy to support an operating budget of $370,735. The tax, at 2/10ths of a mill, would mean $1.80 for $100,000 of actual property value.Without it, the society must close its doors this fall, according to trustees.The tax is a stop-gap measure while a tax with a broader approach to assessing and maintaining historical sites in Pitkin County is explored, said Georgia Hanson, the societys executive director.It does imply that, while we also support the idea of a county inventory and a countywide historical plan, we cant wait, she said.Hanson, who was brought in to head the floundering organization in October 2002, said shed rather take a ballot measure to the electorate and lose than close the societys doors without asking the voters for support.I feel a particular burden, obligation to save this place. To a certain extent, I was brought on to save it, she said. I have this tremendous pressure that I would like to share with the voting community.As a citizen, Id vote for this in a second, Hatfield responded.Like Ireland, though, he had questions.The society has raised about $260,000 of its annual operating expenses primarily through $50 memberships. If voters approve a tax that covers the entire $370,735 that the society needs, commissioners want to know what the organization will do with its fund-raising revenues.Memberships will decline, Hanson predicted, since some members will figure theyre supporting the society through a property tax instead. Any extra dollars would allow the society to boost the kind of programming that may bolster membership over the long haul, she said.Currently, the societys only focus is raising enough money to operate, Hanson said. What weve been doing all along is just treading water and accomplishing nothing, she said. We have not been in a position, since I started, to do much of anything.Weve found that were spending all of our time trying to raise money for this months payroll, agreed Jenna Weatherred, board member and publisher of The Aspen Times.The historical society oversees the Wheeler-Stallard House, Aspens museum and site of the societys archives; the Holden-Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum; and the ghost towns of Independence and Ashcroft. It also holds a lease on the Lift One/Willoughby Park site in Aspen, where it would eventually like to establish a ski museum.Janet Urquharts e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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