Letter: Vote to renew Wheeler Opera House tax | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Vote to renew Wheeler Opera House tax

“Save the Wheeler” was the motto and theme of the initial campaign to encourage the voters of Aspen to approve the first Wheeler real state transfer tax. And save the Wheeler we did, in spades.

Today we have a state-of-the art performance facility, an architectural icon that truly announces to the world the history and traditions that make our community unique. The performing arts world looks at Aspen with envy and respect — envy that we were able to resurrect such a gem from our past, and respect due to our foresight in creating the Wheeler real estate transfer tax specifically to support the opera house and the visual and performing arts.

This very special form of arts funding is in serious danger of being lost for good. The tax is due to sunset in the near future unless the citizens of Aspen vote to extend it for another 20-year term. The TABOR amendment to the Colorado constitution prohibits any new real estate transfer taxes. It also prohibits changing an existing transfer tax. If we allow this tax to die, we will lose it for good.

This is as close to a “good” tax as any tax can be. The .05 percent tax is levied on the buyer of any real estate sold in the city of Aspen except employee housing. I have been successfully selling real estate in Aspen for the entire life of this tax and, after explaining the uses of each of the transfer taxes levied by the city, I have never had any buyer complain about this tax. They all recognize that it is their contribution to the arts and what draws them into our community. It is the “ante” to enter into the game of Aspen.

Over the most recent years, Aspen real estate values have skyrocketed. Our fund, which is in a “protected” trust fund, allows the opera house to manage the annual operation of the facility, to make annual grants to local arts organizations, to underwrite many local performances and, among many other programs, allows the opera house to subsidize ticket prices and keep our presentations affordable for our local audiences. Our basic operating expense is approximately $2 million. The original authorization that allowed the formation of the Wheeler Opera House board prohibits us from fundraising and competing for funds against the other arts organizations.

Without the tax, the opera house would be broke within just a few years. Hence the need to cry out once again, Save the Wheeler.

Please vote to extend this incredible tax. If you have any questions, please call me at 970-379-4640 or email at richiec@aspenexperts.com.

Richie Cohen

Board of directors, Wheeler Opera House