Preservation plan may go to voters

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— The future of Routt County's past may lie in voters' hands.

Local preservationists are pitching their plan to ask taxpayers to help shoulder the costs of preservation today.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners will hear their proposal at 10 a.m. in the commissioners' hearing room.

Representatives from each of the seven historical groups in the county have met regularly since March to talk about posing a preservation tax to the voters.

Museums and preservation societies struggle with keeping their organizations afloat with private donations and a small volunteer base.

The suggested .3-mill levy on residences and businesses in the county would raise about $209,000 annually, based on current assessed valuations. The tax could generate as much as $225,000.

Under the plan, 3 percent, or almost $6,300, would cover administration costs.

Historic Routt County gets 10 percent, and another 10 percent goes into a fund that would cover capital expenses.

The remaining 77 percent would be divided among five proposed museum districts according to their total assessed valuations.

The Steamboat Springs district is home to the Tread of Pioneers Museum and would receive the largest share of pie.

Tread of Pioneers is the only museum in the county to operate on a year-round basis with full-time employees.

Staffing, operational and maintenance costs exceed what fund-raisers and entrance fees bring in to the museum, so permanent financing to the tune of $117,000 would help ensure the museum's survival.

It's crucial that the proposed property tax appears on the November ballot, said

Jayne Hill, president of the Tread of Pioneers Board of Directors.

The museum's financial woes cannot wait for voters to make the call in 2004, she said.

Other groups, such as the Hayden Heritage Center museum and Oak Creek/Phippsburg Historical Society, would benefit from a steady influx of dollars.

Their wish lists include paid staff and space to house and display their collections.

Under the plan and in keeping with current assessed valuations, the West Routt and North Routt museum districts would receive $18,600 and $7,760, respectively.

The proposed Oak Creek district could expect about $14,560 and the Yampa district could get $2,580.

Preservationists are posing what they consider a realistic tax increase to preserve something priceless -- the Yampa Valley's heritage.

Taxpayers could expect to pay about $3 for every $100,000 of residential property, County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

"The community will have to put a value on what museums and historic preservation do for the community," Monger said.

Hill hopes voters embrace an opportunity to preserve a piece of Routt County's past but she understands that tax increases -- regardless of the payoff -- are a tough sell.

"It is small but it is a tax, and we know that it's not going to be easy," Hill said.

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