Referendum 1A is a tax increase for history
Steamboat Springs — Routt County has a rich history.
Hahn’s Peak, now a quiet, dusty town, was once the county seat. There, some found their fortunes in the form of gold, while others saw their fortunes disappear after being sentenced to the local jail.
Near Hayden is the Carpenter Ranch, where Ferry Carpenter helped refine Hereford cattle as a separate breed of stock, and the Semotan ranch, known for the family’s contributions to developing the quarter horse breed.
Farther south, there’s the historical mining towns of Oak Creek and Phippsburg that were shaped by the construction of railroads.
Steamboat Springs’ history of ranching and skiing is diverse and fascinating to many.
The stories go on and on.
The museums and historical societies across the county that help keep those stories alive say this year’s election is crucial to the region’s history.
Although voters won’t pick a president, or even state or U.S. congressional representatives during this election, they will decide on a .3-mill levy to help fund historical organizations and museums countywide.
The levy would tax property owners about $2.38 for each $100,000 of residential property, providing more than $200,000 a year to preserve the county’s history. The funds from the proposed tax would be divided between the county’s museums and groups according to school district boundaries and populations.
Steamboat Springs’ historical organizations would receive about $117,000, for example, while Yampa’s organizations would receive about $3,700.
The issue has united most of the county’s historical groups and museums in support of the mill levy.
Without the tax, many historical groups will face tough decisions, said Arianthe Stettner, a board member for Historic Routt County.
“Some museums may close their doors,” Stettner said. “Certainly services will be diminished and history will suffer.”
The Tread of Pioneers Museum in downtown Steamboat was instrumental in getting conversations about the mill levy started. If the mill levy isn’t approved, it could be forced to cut services and staff over the next few years, museum board member Don Grant said.
If it passes, the museum will be able to continue operating as a year-round museum and its staff would be freed up to spend more time working as museum curators and less time trying to raise funds.
Perhaps most importantly, Grant said, the mill levy would support efforts to preserve history across the county.
“This is not a Tread issue, this is a countywide issue,” he said. “We believe that the museums in the county are all interlinked and all intertwined.”
There’s no line in the sand separating the Steamboat museum from those in Oak Creek, Hayden or other areas, he said.
With the mill levy, the county would have a better chance of preserving its past for future generations, and of documenting the history and stories that its residents are making today, he said.
Renee Johnson, president of the Historical Society of Oak Creek and Phippsburg, said the funds would be especially helpful to the society now as it’s looking to turn Oak Creek’s Old Town Hall into a museum.
The approximately $14,500 a year the group would secure through the mill levy could be used for maintaining a museum and refurbishing and preserving photographs and other artifacts, Johnson said.
“There are always ways of using these extra monies,” she said. “You can do projects with that money that you can’t think about when you don’t have it.”
All 10 members of the society support the mill levy, she said.
Although the Oak Creek and Phippsburg area would receive a fraction of what the Steamboat area would receive, Johnson said the distribution makes sense because the area’s smaller population would be contributing a smaller piece of the total money raised.
“The (bigger) the population, the more money you usually receive, so I think people understand that,” she said.
The mill levy also would greatly benefit the Hahn’s Peak Area Historical Society, said the society’s vice president Shirley Stocks.
Similar to the Tread of Pioneers Museum, the society owns the historic buildings it uses and has to pay insurance, heating and lighting bills, as well as the costs of any repairs.
The walls of the historic schoolhouse are bowing out with water running behind them, and repairing it will be a significant cost for the small organization, Stocks said.
“(The buildings) are in a bad state of disrepair because in the past we just have not had the funds available to keep them fixed up,” Stocks said. “(The mill levy) would help that.”
The funds also would allow the group, which relies on volunteer time and donations, to document and digitize its artifacts and photographs.
Wendy Moreau, director of the Yampa Egeria Museum, said although she agrees that museums play an important role in society, she doesn’t agree that people should be taxed for them.
“I’m against any taxes of any kind that aren’t specifically for infrastructure,” Moreau said. “I don’t care how little, even if it’s just a pittance.”
The town of Yampa owns the museum, and in August, the Yampa Board of Trustees agreed that voters should have the chance to decide on the tax.
Janet Ray, town clerk for Yampa, said the board didn’t voice support for the bill through its vote, but merely said the voters should decide on the issue.
Ray said she personally feels that the funds from the tax would be put to good use in Yampa.
If the mill levy doesn’t pass, organizations across the county will have a tougher time preserving the area’s history, said Bain White, treasurer of Historic Routt County and owner of the Old Hayden Inn.
When people know their history, they have a sense of place, White said.
“You depend so much on what your roots are as to where you function in society, and if you don’t have visible signs and reminders of those roots, I think you lose part of your background,” White said.
History also makes the area special, Stettner of Historic Routt County said. The area’s cultural landscape, tales of how people came and lived and thrived, shows unpretentious people working in a tough climate and succeeding, she said.
If that history slips away, it’s often gone for good.
“History is irreplaceable,” she said. “Once it’s lost, whether it’s buildings, artifacts or stories, it’s nearly impossible to get back.”
— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203
or e-mail email@example.com
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