Historic groups push Garfield property tax hike
July 9, 2017
Local historical societies are banding together to propose an increase to property taxes to support Garfield County's museums and historic preservation organizations.
On Monday, Garfield County commissioners will field a proposal to put the museum tax question to voters in the Nov. 7 election. The proposal would increase the county's property tax by 0.45 of one mill, an amount that's hoped to draw about $1 million of new revenue annually.
Supporters of the museum tax estimate that this would annually cost residential property owners $3.24 for $100,000 of assessed property value, and owners of commercial, agricultural or vacant land $13.05 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
Oil and gas producers would annually pay $39.38 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
The increased property tax would start in 2018 and sunset in 2027.
However, it's not a forgone conclusion that commissioners will approve putting the question on the ballot, said Matt Annabel, a Mount Sopris Historical Society board member who will present the proposal Monday.
Commissioner John Martin has often proudly noted that the board of commissioners has never, in his 20-year tenure, asked for a tax increase. But at the same time, commissioners have frequently shown support for preserving Garfield County's cultural heritage as a rural Western county.
Historical societies throughout Garfield County have been struggling for several years, many dependent on the generosity of philanthropists to pay for their basic operations. Some of these organizations also get some money from their municipalities, and a very little from admissions and donations. But this funding structure is not sustainable for the long term, said Annabel.
Only two of these organizations have staffers. The rest operate solely on volunteer time.
A study by Colorado Preservation Inc. shows that more than half of the tourism dollars coming into Colorado are spent on "heritage tourism," he said.
That's an admittedly broad category, but it encompasses historic preservation. And supporters of the proposed museum tax hope to tap into an economic trend of which Annabel says Garfield County is "barely scratching the surface."
That same study also showed that on average in Colorado for every $1 million invested in historic preservation, the community gets more than $1 million back in new revenue and 14 new jobs, said Annabel. "There's a real opportunity here to improve the economy of Garfield County."
The tax could be a job-creating and revenue-generating machine that leverages the county's historical assets while also protecting them, said Annabel.
Annabel said these organizations are looking to tap into a statewide economic opportunity of a different model than they've worked under so far. "We look at it as an investment for the citizens of Garfield County to explore a new economic opportunity not tied to the traditional economic model we've had," he said.
Should the museum tax make it on the November ballot and pass, 43 percent of the revenue it generates would go straight to funding operations and programs for the county's historic societies and museums. Meanwhile, 53 percent would be used as grants to pay for historic preservation projects, available to member organizations. The remaining 4 percent would pay for administration.
This proposal has historical societies from every major community in Garfield County involved, said Annabel.
It lists seven historical societies and museums as member organizations that would be eligible to receive "Historic Preservation, Education and Member Operations Allocations:" Mount Sopris Historical Society, Glenwood Springs Historical Society, Glenwood Railroad Museum, New Castle Historical Society, Silt Historical Park, Rifle Heritage Center and Museum and Grand Valley Historical Society.
Other such organizations would be encouraged to apply to become member organizations.
This ballot question would also create a seven-member Historic Garfield County Advisory Board, which would be in charge of reviewing applications and making recommendations to commissioners on expenditures from the new fund. Members of that board would comprise two members appointed to represent each commissioner district and one at-large member.
"If we can get at least two commissioners to say yes, we're optimistic we can get a good ground campaign going to help voters understand this opportunity," said Annabel.
He encourages people with questions about the proposal to visit historicgarfieldcounty.org, where there is also a survey for residents to submit their thoughts about the proposed property tax increase.