Q. How did the Tread of Pioneers Museum's decision to go forward with a tax proposal on November's ballot develop into a tax that is countywide and set to benefit five museums and Historic Routt County?
A. Late last winter, Tread of Pioneers representatives met jointly with the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners to inform the two governmental agencies of our intention to seek permission for a city museum mill levy question. At that meeting, the county commissioners urged the Tread of Pioneers Museum to join with the other county museums and Historic Routt County to seek a countywide mill levy because there were funding needs for all of the organizations. We complied and have met six times with the other organizations and formed the Routt County Museum and Heritage Fund group.
Q. How did the group decide on a .3 mill levy? What would that mean for every $100,000 of residential property value and $100,000 of commercial property value? What has to be done before it goes on the ballot?
A. The .3 mill levy generates the level of funding, as determined by a representative county group, to provide a reasonable level of financial assistance for the six organizations. For every $100,000 of residential property value, the cost is $2.38. For commercial property value, the cost is $8.70. The mill levy resolution and ballot language must be accepted and approved by the Routt County commissioners.
Q. How did the group decide on the way those funds would be shared among the five museums? Has each of the museums decided on how those funds will be spent?
A. After reviewing several scenarios of figures based on community population, school district population or fire district numbers, etc., the group determined that using school district population figures was the most equitable method of sharing anticipated revenue.
As museums, we share common expenses such as the updating and maintenance of aging buildings, meeting utility expenses, republishing printed materials and offering informed assistance; and in the specific case of Oak Creek/Phippsburg, the historical society's in the process of securing a building to rehabilitate and use as a home for a community museum.
Another ethical obligation of a museum is to conserve and preserve items that are donated so future generations have the opportunity for visual connection to their past. The expense of proper identification, care, cleaning, handling, conserving, storing and displaying becomes a cumulative expense for every item in a museum's collection. As our historic treasures age, the preservation costs escalate. Museums are not revenue-generating operations, but instead represent the heart of a community and enrich life for all residents.
Q. Can you explain how Historic Routt County will use its 10 percent of the revenue from the tax and what will be done with the other 10 percent of the capacity building fund?
A. Working against time to save a memorable building before it is bulldozed for development or collapses under winter snows, Historic Routt County is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the character of Routt County through the built environment. HRC assists willing property owners and interested parties in documenting and preserving their historic barns, homes, buildings and other structures by providing preservation information, technical assistance, access to grants and other resources. The 10 percent revenue from the proposed tax will be used by HRC to assist in offering these services.
The "capacity building" fund is designed to regrant money to museums or HRC for special projects. An example for the use of such a fund would be the "bear cage jail" that once served Routt County and is now placed at the Hahn's Peak Museum. This relic of our heritage tells one of the great outlaw stories of the Old West, but it is slowly sinking, rusting away, and in need of immediate restoration attention. The Hahn's Peak Historical Society could apply to this "capacity building" fund for financing that project; and if approved by the nine-member board appointed to represent the county by the commissioners, have the necessary money to restore and preserve that unique piece of our history.
Q. In the past year, the Tread of Pioneers has expressed its need for a stable funding source. What will happen to the museum if this tax is not passed?
A. It is very unusual in Colorado cities comparable to ours that a museum is not funded with an annual, predictable income, at least in part by a governmental agency, because museums are considered to be an important part of communities. Neither in Steamboat nor in Routt County is museum funding a part of the regular budget process. If this mill levy does not pass, the operation of the Tread of Pioneers Museum may look far different from what this community has come to expect. Will we be able to continue to host the 1,000 students who visit us each school year, honor our senior citizens with awards and programs, educate our community and guests with changing exhibits and seminars, preserve our community's treasures, or serve as resource for historical photos and information? Questions such as these remain to be answered by the results of the mill levy ballot issue.