The Saratoga Sun -

Saratoga-Ryan Park Museum District on hold

Carbon County Commissioners will hold continued public hearing over proposed district on June 16

 


The pursuit of a special museum tax district by the Saratoga Museum and Historical Association (Saratoga Museum) has been placed on a temporary hold following the June 2 meeting of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners (BOCCC).

During a public hearing at the regular meeting of the BOCCC, the governing body heard arguments both for and against the establishment of the district. Notably, those speaking out against the district clarified that they were not in direct opposition to the establishment of such a district, but were concerned about its size.

Carbon County Clerk Gywnn Bartlett prefaced the public hearing by giving both the BOCCC and the public a timeline of how the Saratoga Museum had reached the point of a public hearing. According to Bartlett, the clerk’s office had been approached about establishing a special museum district for the purpose of collecting a mill levy.

“We spoke about that process and, in February, sent Connie Patterson a letter outlining that process. Essentially, the process is a petition signed by 25 percent of the landowners owning at least 25 percent of the assessed value property in the proposed area,” said Bartlett. “Basically, that amounted to 2,604 landowners with $40,214,768.31 in value. So, 25 percent of both of those numbers, they would need 651 signatures of individuals or entities owning at least $10,053,692.08 in value.”

The Saratoga Museum was able to obtain 668 signatures owning over $16 million in value by the March 20 deadline given by the clerk’s office. As was reported previously (see “Saratoga Museum tax district passed first hurdle” on page 11 of the April 15 Saratoga Sun), the BOCCC were notified by Bartlett about the proposed Saratoga-Ryan Park Museum District about the threshold for a public hearing being reached.

“The hearing had to be not less than 45 days, no more than 90 days, after the petition was filed. So, we’re within that time frame,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett further informed the commissioners that they had the ability to alter the boundaries of the district by either expanding it or reducing it based on whether they felt an area would or would not benefit from the tax district. The currently proposed boundaries for the district are based on voting districts mapped out by Carbon County and include Saratoga 11-1, Saratoga 11-2 Outside and 11-2-1, which encompasses Ryan Park.

The BOCCC were also informed that, following the adjournment of the hearing, a 30 day period would allow for landowners owning 35 percent of the assessed value of property within the proposed district to submit written letters of protest. If that threshold were met, then the proposed district would fail.

“That 35 percent would amount to $14,075,168.91 in value. If that criteria is not met by July 2, 30 days from today, assuming you don’t continue today’s hearing … then the matter would proceed to the November ballot if this board enters an order directing me to hold such an election,” said Bartlett.

Upon opening the public hearing, Tim Nicklas, director of the Grand Encampment Museum, stood to speak against the Saratoga-Ryan Park Museum District.

“I hesitate to say opposition, but more concerns about the taxing district and it mostly involves how large the district is and the boundaries it covers,” said Nicklas. “It goes well beyond just the boundaries of the town limits of Saratoga. It covers a very, very large area of the Upper North Platte Valley and, with such a taxing district if it were to pass, it would exclude any other museums from being able to do anything similar.”

Nicklas added that he also had concerns about what impact the tax district could have on the donations made to the Grand Encampment Museum. According to Nicklas, his belief was that large landowners who were already paying a tax to support the Saratoga Museum would be hesitant to donate to the museum in Encampment.

“We were not communicated with about this when they started the petition. It would have been nice for us to have discussions about it and possibly create a larger tax district that would include every museum on the eastern side of Carbon County such as Hanna, Medicine Bow, Grand Encampment,” Nicklas said. “We all struggle financially. That’s the museum business and we could all benefit by working together. Not only that, I think we could have created a much stronger tax base. I believe we could have created more general support from the population if we would have included the entire eastern part of Carbon County.”

Also speaking in opposition to the size of the district was Nancy Anderson, a historian of Carbon County and former director of the Hanna Basin Museum. Anderson stated her support for a museum district that would encompass the eastern part of Carbon County, adding that many of the families from both the northern part of the county such as Hanna and Medicine Bow were connected to families in the Upper North Platte Valley.

“What this basically says that, if you approve this district, you are saying that the Saratoga Museum will be the right and proper person to gather, interpret and present the history of every township and section. I admire them. They have done a great deal of work. They are to be applauded. However, these other museums have decades of volunteer effort going back to the 60s, the 80s. Elk Mountain is just brand new,” said Anderson. “I really agree with Tim that the only solution is the establishment of one museum district for Carbon County District (School) District No. 2’s area. It is so logical. We share people, we share things. We are one identity and I think that’s what we should strive for.”

Following Nicklas and Anderson’s comments, Kimberly Givens, director of the Saratoga Museum, informed the BOCCC of one of the major reasons behind the decision to pursue the Saratoga-Ryan Park Museum District. Givens served as museum director from 2012 to 2014 and returned in 2019. According to Given, upon her return to the position she discovered that the museum was in dire financial straits and was at risk of closing within the next 10 years.

“As of right now, we are using our endowment. Which, that endowment was not meant to be used. When that was put in place in 1979, we were to use the interest rate off of that and that endowment has gone down considerably,” said Givens. “We understand that we share the history.”

“We chose to include Ryan Park because, believe it or not, Ryan Park is one of the few communities in Carbon County that doesn’t have its own museum,” said Connie Patterson, president of the Saratoga Museum board. “There is nothing to say that we can’t expand the boundaries at some point.”

At one point, Givens referenced both the mill levy obtained by the Little Snake River Museum District and the donor base for the Grand Encampment Museum stating that both had the funds it needed to operate while the Saratoga Museum did not. Nicklas, however, responded by stating that the Grand Encampment Museum’s endowment was not that large and that the museum actively fundraised throughout the year.

Following the closing of the public hearing, the BOCCC discussed the points raised by Nicklas and Anderson while recognizing the work put in by the Saratoga Museum to get to the point of the public hearing. Commissioner John Espy and Commissioner Travis Moore both expressed their support for moving forward with the proposed district. Moore added that there were valid arguments made for collaboration and cooperation towards a larger museum district for eastern Carbon County.

Commissioner Sue Jones and Commissioner Byron Barkhurst, similarly, stated they were understanding of the work put in by the Saratoga Museum and the concerns raised over the size of the district. Jones stated that her position came down to respecting the process that the Saratoga Museum had followed. All members of the BOCCC appeared to be hesitant about expanding the boundaries to encompass all of eastern Carbon County without it having gone through the petition process.

Chairman John Johnson stated that he wanted to adjourn the public hearing until the next meeting of the BOCCC so the commissioners could hear from other communities. This did not count as a complete adjournment and did not activate the 30 day protest period.

A continued public hearing will be held at 11:15 a.m. on June 16.

The next meeting of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners will be at 9 a.m. on June 16 at the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins.

 

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