Guest opinion: History’s hope — Garfield County’s plan for the future
The Post Independent, in an Oct. 23 editorial, asked Garfield County voters to reject ballot issue 1A on the assertion that Citizens for Historic Garfield County has no plan. That assertion doesn’t hold water. Here is our plan, and its reason for being.
The unique character that makes each of Garfield County’s communities special took centuries to build. That character is kept alive by seven independent historical societies and protected by dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to the benefit of all who love this place we live.
But history is not well in Garfield County. Our once-balanced budgets no longer cover ever-escalating expenses and expectations. The longstanding model for preserving the heritage of our small communities has become unsustainable.
Our historical societies could have pulled the rip cord and drifted peacefully into a future disconnected from its past. Instead, we lit the signal beacon and held on tight.
Then something truly remarkable happened. Citizens from every corner of Garfield County came together to break history’s fall … they picked it up, dusted it off and said, “Let’s build it better.”
So we made a plan. Garfield County ballot issue 1A.
Our planning process began with identifying all of our obstacles and opportunities. The following priorities evolved from that analysis:
• Priority 1: Create a sufficient and stable source of operational funding. That’s money to pay historical society staff, rent, utility bills, buy office supplies and advertise our programs. All things fundamental to running a legitimate business. Addressing the operational needs of our seven organizations would require $530,000 annually. We currently have about $230,000 to work with.
• Priority 2: Shore up the foundation. Address critical building repairs, restorations and enhancements. More than one museum needs a heating system to be able to stay open all year. Another museum has a leaky roof that needs replacing. The basement that houses another town’s historical archives floods. The restoration work wrapped around each of these repairs and upgrades runs this bill into the hundreds of thousands.
• Priority 3: Implement the vision for the future. Examples include pursuing new museum spaces, improving our archival and exhibit spaces and technology, capturing video histories, adding educational events and programs, saving more historic properties and artifacts, collaborating with local businesses to attract heritage tourists, providing matching funds for grants that attract state and federal money. These are the things necessary to build a model of long-term sustainability for Garfield County’s history.
Based on these priorities, we set our annual funding targets as follows:
• $530,000 to create a stable source of operational funding for all seven historical societies (priority 1 gets 100 percent funded every year)
• $430,000 in discretionary grants. The goal is to address priority 2 items immediately, then dive directly in to priority 3
• $40,000 for annual administration of the fund by county staff
Those numbers sum to $1 million. That’s what we are asking voters for: $1 million annually for 10 years. Ten years to build a sustainable future for Garfield County’s history.
If 1A passes, a citizen’s advisory board will be created. Each of the seven historical societies will remain independent. Each society must propose annual budgets to the advisory board and show progress year over year. The advisory board, in close coordination with the historical societies, will recommend a specific distribution of the funds each year. The Board of County Commissioners will have the final say.
If you are keeping count, that’s two new levels of oversight built into the plan.
It is critical that the advisory board have flexibility in how they distribute funds from year to year. Funding needs will shift as time goes on. Year one will be intensive care. Years two and three will be foundation building. By year five, the program will be well into its visionary goals.
We’ve made a point of not tying the hands of the citizens advisory board at this ballot initiative stage. We’ve reserved the right for that future board to make year-to-year distribution adjustments that will optimize the impact of the fund.
Garfield County’s seven historical societies are valuable community anchors. 1A is designed to help each of them thrive. There will be no picking of “winners and losers.” For the program to be successful, we must see positive impacts, in every community, every year. Success will be measured in:
• More heritage preserved.
• More visitors served.
• More schoolchildren and adults engaged in heritage preservation programs.
• More heritage tourist dollars captured.
• More sales tax dollars for our municipalities.
• More state and federal grant dollars attracted.
• More jobs generated.
That’s the plan.
We need look no further than Routt County for a successful model of heritage preservation built on a similar property tax. As quoted on the website HistoricRouttCounty.org, “Preservation doesn’t cost, it pays!”
Let’s build this better future together in Garfield County.
You are history’s hope. Vote YES on 1A.
Matt Annabel, a member of Carbondale’s Mount Sopris Historical Society, wrote this on behalf of Citizens for Historic Garfield County.