Letter: Wheeler Opera House needs your support
For the first time in almost 20 years, the Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax is up for renewal. On Nov. 8, Aspen voters will have the opportunity to vote “yes” to keep this unique benefit to our community or lose it forever.
The Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax is a half-percent tax that is paid by a buyer when they purchase property within the Aspen city limits. If you rent in Aspen, you don’t pay the tax. If you live in an Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority home, you don’t pay the tax. It also is not a recurring tax; it is only paid when someone buys a free-market property.
The purpose of the Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax has been and continues to be “to provide for the maintenance of the Wheeler Opera House and, subordinate thereto, to provide for the support of the visual and performing arts.”
The Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax was initially established in 1979, was overwhelmingly renewed 20 years later, and is now up for a 20-year renewal again. The money has paid for all of the renovation work done on the Wheeler over the years, from hidden structural and systems upgrades to the beautiful, new lobby downstairs, the bar area and the new balcony with more comfortable seating. It also has allowed the Wheeler to have the kind of high-quality programming we’ve seen over the years, from top-rate national acts, theater to films and family events, all at a more reasonable prices than at other venues in Aspen. The money also has been used to help other arts programs in Aspen every year. In 2016, a total of $350,000 has been given to local nonprofit arts organizations. Due to the increase in local real estate prices, there has been a significant reserve fund established for a rainy day, or for other uses if the voters approve in later elections.
This type of real estate transfer tax is rare in Colorado; there are only 11 other communities that have them and due to changes in the law, if they don’t get renewed then they are gone forever. They also cannot be altered in any way, including the half-percent rate. If the Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax isn’t renewed, then the reserve fund would be able sustain the operations for a few years, but after that the Wheeler would have to rely on private donations or corporate sponsorships to raise additional money for renovations. In addition, ticket prices would go up, rental rates for schools and local groups would increase and there will be less money available to local nonprofit arts organizations.
So on behalf of the Wheeler Yes committee, I am asking for your support. Please vote “yes” and renew the Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax this November. Please explain what’s at risk and ask your friends and family to vote “yes.” Please spread the word at work and in your organizations. Thank you for your support and see you at the Wheeler!
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Two Rivers Unitarian-Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Valley’s Interfaith Council and Sanctuary Unidos, is showing a Zoom presentation of the documentary “Welcome Strangers” at 10 a.m. Sunday.