Preservationists will ask local taxpayers for help

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

Local preservationists decided they would ask taxpayers to help shoulder the costs of preservation Tuesday night.

The county wanted to know if museums and historical groups were willing to put a property tax on the ballot to generate sorely needed cash.

Preservation organizations agreed to jointly pursue a preservation tax.

"There could be a lot of strength in all of the preservation groups coming together," said Jayne Hill, board president of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

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

But staffing, operational and maintenance costs exceed what fund-raisers and entrance fees bring in to the museum.

Other groups, such as the Hayden Heritage Center museum and the Oak Creek/Phippsburg Historical Society, have wish lists that include paid staff and space to house and display their collections.

"It's a building that we're going to want those monies for," said Renee Johnson, president of the South Routt organization.

Representatives from a half-dozen preservation groups told the Board of County Commissioners about the challenges of keeping their organizations afloat with private donations and a small volunteer base.

Fund-raising demands so much time and energy that the real work of preserving the county's western heritage does not get the attention it deserves, said Candice Lombardo, Tread of Pioneers' curator and acting director.

The county is suggesting a .25-mill levy on residences and businesses in the county.

The proposed tax would generate about $166,000.

Preservation groups questioned if that revenue would cover all their needs, but recognized voters would likely reject a higher tax.

"We have to be realistic about what we ask for," Hayden Heritage Center museum volunteer Pat Holderness said.

Preservation groups are uncertain if their proposed property tax would appear on the Nov. 2003 or Nov. 2004 ballot.

The board suggested a longer timeline would provide more time to put together a campaign to educate the public about the importance of permanent funding.

In the meantime, representatives from each of the seven historical groups in the county will meet regularly to talk about posing a preservation tax to the voters.

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