Our View: Funding our history

Referendum 1A on the Nov. 4 ballot asks voters to approve a 0.3-mill property tax to support museums and historic societies in Routt County.

A 0.3-mill tax will cost residential homeowners about $2.38 per $100,000 of valuation and commercial business owners about $8.70 per $100,000 of valuation. In our estimation, that's a small price to pay to ensure the preservation of our history.

The new tax would raise about $210,000 to be distributed throughout the county. Of those funds, $117,000 would go to the Tread of Pioneers Museum; $14,500 to Oak Creek-Phippsburg; $18,000 to West Routt; $7,700 to North Routt; and $3,700 to Yampa. Another $21,000 would be given to Historic Routt County and $21,000 to a fund for the area historical groups to draw upon.

Currently, the Tread of Pioneers Museum gets limited funding from the city of Steamboat Springs. The rest comes from admission charges, memberships, museum store sales, grants and fund raising. Fund raising accounted for about 65 percent of the museum's $180,000 budget last year, which still wasn't enough to cover all expenses. The museum's director took an unpaid leave of absence to help save money.

A dedicated property tax would stabilize museum revenues, lessen fund-raising pressures and save the city about $30,000 per year in museum donations. The museum would eliminate the $5 admission charge for Routt County residents, so admission revenues likely would decrease. But with a property tax in place, the museum would be able to meet its annual budget with a full staff and have funds available for capital improvements to its building. Among the projects the tax can help fund are an expanded research center at the museum, reprints of historical publications, expanded education opportunities, upgraded storage facilities and better archiving and conservation of photos, records and other documents.

Some argue the tax is weighted heavily in favor of Steamboat Springs. That is not the case. The funds would be distributed proportionately according to tax valuations. That means area communities would receive less than Steamboat's museum. Still, the amounts area organizations would receive often would double and triple their budgets.

For example, the Hahn's Peak Area Historical Society operates on a budget of $500 to $700. If the tax is approved, the society would have nearly $8,000 each year to address some of its needs, including replacing the siding on the Moonhill Schoolhouse and repairing the foundation on the school and the museum.

Oak Creek-Phippsburg would receive $14,500 per year to address needs that include renovation of the old city hall for use as a museum, and West Routt could use its $18,000 to hire a part-time curator and rewire its museum.

Area history organizations also would have access to $21,000 each year for special projects.

Finally, there is the $21,000 that would go to Historic Routt County for its work to preserve area barns, nominate and qualify properties for historic designation, conduct preservation projects, conduct historic structure assessments and provide historic education and awareness. Much of Historic Routt County's work occurs outside of Steamboat Springs.

The museums and historical societies in the county have limited funds to do critical work. They document and preserve our pictures, writings, records and buildings for future generations to see and understand. They deserve and need our assistance. Referendum 1A is our chance to help.

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