Proposal to create arts district pulled for now

LOVELAND – A ballot item asking voters to approve a new taxing district benefiting arts and science groups in Larimer County will not appear on the 2014 ballot because of a lack of public support.

The creation of a Scientific and Cultural Facilities District was planned for the 2014 ballot, but a short supply of support from interested communities in Fort Collins and Loveland has put the plan on hold for the foreseeable future.

“It’s languishing at the moment,” said Susan Ison, director of cultural facilities for the city of Loveland. Ison was the city staff member in charge of working on compiling information about such districts.

Meetings with groups in Fort Collins, Loveland, Berthoud and Estes Park were held over the course of the last year, but the effort never made it to the petition phase necessary before an item can be placed on a ballot, Ison said.

A Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, or SCFD, is a special taxing district enabled by state legislation passed in 1987. These districts impose a sales tax of no more than 0.3 percent, or three cents on a $10 purchase, which is directed to the operating budgets of eligible scientific and cultural organizations within the district’s boundaries.

The creation of such a district would have meant more than $5 million in additional funds to be distributed to qualifying organizations in Larimer County.

The most recent effort was the third time such a district has been considered in Larimer County. Attempts to get an SCFD onto the ballot were made in 2008 and 2009, but the efforts failed because of issues with petition certification and election costs.

This time, Ison believes it’s simply a matter of timing.

“There have to be supporters who feel compelled to mobilize, and we didn’t see any of those come to the surface, so that tells me that it’s just not the right time,” she said. “This initiative will not be successful without community support.”

“No group has taken it and run with it,” said Ray Caraway, president of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, which has been involved in conversations about the district and would have been involved with promoting the district, had it been created.

A lot of questions must be answered before an SCFD can be created, Caraway said, and no one had stepped up to find the answers.

One of the largest questions is determining the scope of such a district. By state law, only one district is allowed per county, so the geographic boundaries of the district must be carefully considered to include every city and organization that might want to be part of the district.

“The overarching question was ‘What would be the ideal way to get it done?’ ” Caraway said.

That question will remain unanswered for the time being.

“I don’t know if it will come up again,” Ison said. “I think it probably will, but I don’t know when.”

Getting SCFDs off the ground has been a challenge statewide.  Five counties, including Larimer, have attempted to create the districts, but only Denver County has been successful – and then only after immense effort and a $750,000 contribution from arts and science organizations was added to the mix.

Denver’s SCFD was approved by voters in 1988 in a vote called “extraordinary” by one of the district’s first employees, Jane Hansberry.

The Denver Art Museum, Denver Zoo, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Museum of Nature and Science and a few other entities contributed financially to getting the item onto the ballot, and today receive more than $28 million combined from the district.

The district has been reauthorized twice, and will be back up for consideration in 2016.

Molly Armbrister can be reached at 970-232-3129, 303-630-1969 or marmbrister@bizwestmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @marmbristerBW.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR
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