The Sopris Sun

History buffs pin hopes for future on 1A

By Justin Patrick
Special to The Sopris Sun

It’s easy to take public resources in smaller communities for granted, especially in the colorful towns dotting the Roaring Fork Valley and Colorado River Valleys, where passionate people seem to go above and beyond the call of duty to simply make things work. But the reality is that some key local institutions in Garfield County, perhaps most visibly the library system, but more precipitously the network of historical societies, are struggling to keep their doors open. Historical societies are up against the clock to find creative funding sources for the future so they can keep the past alive.
One possible solution proponents are bringing to voters on Nov. 7 is ballot 1A. According to a supporting pamphlet, the initiative “was drafted by leaders of historical societies from communities throughout Garfield County.” Specifically, the Grand Valley Historical Society in Parachute, the Rifle Heritage Center and Museum, the Silt Historical Park, the New Castle Historical Society, the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, the Glenwood Railroad Museum, and the Mt. Sopris Historical Society in Carbondale. 
Ballot issue 1A would create a new property tax mill levy of .45 of one mill. In other words, property-owning residents would pay a small percentage of the value of their property into a fund. Every year for ten years (when the fund sunsets), residential property owners would pay $3.24 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Commercial, agricultural, and vacant land owners would pay $13.05 per $100k. Lastly, oil and gas producers would pay $39.38 per $100k of assessed property value. 
That tax would generate an estimated $1 million per year beginning with tax year 2018 and ending in 2027, though voters would be able to reauthorize the fund after that. It would be overseen by a seven-member advisory board  that would report to the Board of County Commissioners. 
1A earmarks 53 percent of the fund to directly support the operations and programs of local historical societies, while 43 percent goes to grant monies available to historic preservation projects throughout the county. Not only would this provide an opportunity for green-lighting local projects, but it would allow more substantial projects to apply for grant money at the state or even federal level, and have the ability to match those grants, which is a standard practice. 
For example, if the State Historical Fund was willing to award $20,000 to a local historical preservation project, but required that project to have a matching $20,000 on hand, after the passage of 1A local projects could confidently apply for such grants. Proponents argue that this provision would bring outside dollars to the community, which would have a positive economic ripple effect benefiting all taxpayers, regardless of their personal interest in preserving cultural heritage. Finally, 4 percent would go to the administration of the fund.
Beth White, Executive Director of the Mount Sopris Historical Society, said that representatives of the seven organizations met last year to brainstorm solutions about perpetual financial woes. “A group of us came together in similar situations, very enthused and committed to our mission obligations but dealing with a lack of resources to actually realize those obligations,” she said. They decided to duplicate a successful model born out in Routt County, and that was the inspiration for the initiative.
According to White, this model not only serves the wishes of history aficionados with a laundry list of preservation and experiential projects, but will essentially pay revenue from cultural heritage tourism into the local economy. 
“1A has a multiplier effect on our historic preservation efforts and our cultural heritage tourism economy, but I would suggest that both of those economies bring people here and impact hotels, businesses, and restaurants,” she said. “The cultural heritage tourism economy is the most prized segment of the leisure travel market because they stay longer and have more disposable income.” White described the area as asset-rich in historical resources, and suggested that preserving and protecting those “differentiated assets” ultimately contributes to higher home values.
Matt Annabel, a Mt. Sopris Historical Society board member, echoed the economic argument. He cited a study by Colorado Preservation, Inc., that estimated the heritage tourism economy in the state as high as several billions of dollars per year. In his opinion, Garfield County is poised to win a piece of this pie, if historical societies have the opportunity to expand and develop creative programming. 
But it’s not all about the money. Annabel believes that it is the responsibility of the current society to preserve its roots for future generations.
“I really believe that our historic societies are critical elements of our communities’ characters,” he said. “We are the entities that hold on to the history the community wants to save.”
Anabel cited three major reasons to pass 1A. First, to “save our special places.” Second, to “protect our way of life.” And third, “to grow the economic opportunity here.”
Voters will have the opportunity to demonstrate their level of agreement when ballots are mailed out.
White is convinced that it is the right choice for all county residents.
“Voting yes on 1A will be a vote to protect our unique way of life that is inextricably tied to our history, while generating tax dollars to local business and bringing in additional revenue,” she said.