GarCo voters to consider historic preservation tax

Garfield County voters will be asked this fall to invest in the county’s legacy by passing a special property tax to pay for historic preservation.

County commissioners on Monday voted 3-0 to let the electorate decide on a 0.45 mill levy to support museums and historic preservation across the county.

County historic preservation leaders say the tax would raise about $1 million in its first year and cost homeowners $3.24 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.

Funds would go to operations and programs of historic preservation organizations and provide grants for projects such as capital improvements, with 4 percent going for administration of the fund. The fund would be overseen by an advisory board reporting to county commissioners.

Supporters say that according to Colorado Preservation Inc., heritage tourism is a $7.2 billion industry in Colorado, and every $1 million invested in historic preservation leads to about the same amount in additional spending, creating 14 jobs.

Matt Annabel, with the Mt. Sopris Historical Society in Carbondale, told commissioners that the county has a huge economic opportunity in heritage tourism.

“We feel that our historical societies are best situated to tap into it,” he said.

But he said the mostly volunteer-based groups are “running on fumes at the moment,” getting by month to month based on such funding sources as philanthropists.

“We feel that if we’ve got a well-funded mechanism behind us we can do a lot more,” he said.

The tax would be for 10 years at first, with supporters hoping to later ask for a permanent tax once they have proved its worth. They also may later ask voters to create a special district to oversee the fund’s spending.

Commissioners approved sending the measure to voters despite concerns by commissioners Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson over such issues as a lack of polling showing support for it, and uncertainty of whether this is the right time to put a tax increase before voters.

“People I’ve talked to just said it will never pass,” Jankovsky said.

Commissioner John Martin, who said he’d never supported increasing taxes in 21 years in that job, voiced support for the proposal as one that would benefit all parts of the county.

“You know what? It’s time. It’s time to ask (voters) and see,” said Martin, a local history enthusiast.

Pat Thrasher, manager of the Glenwood Railroad Museum in Glenwood Springs, said a favorable vote by county commissioners and residents could help keep that museum from likely closing at the end of this year if it can’t raise enough money. The museum is at the Amtrak station, owned by Union Pacific, which wants the museum to start paying fair market value, or about $28,000 a year, for its display space, Thrasher said.

Nancy Kramer, with the Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Program, touted the benefits that a historic preservation tax has had in Routt County, from boosting educational opportunities to helping in obtaining matching grants.

“I encourage you to allow the citizens to have this great opportunity and to see the benefits sooner than later,” she told commissioners.


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