This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 6, 1999

October 6, 1999 - Scientific and Cultural Facilities District

I was raised just north of Chicago. Unlike most of my friends, I have to say that I really didn't like the city. It was too dirty, too cold, and too dangerous. But there were three things I did like: the Lake, the el (the "elevated train" used by commuters), and the museums. When I was a high school kid, sometimes I'd combine all three: hop the el, then ride along the Lake toward either the art museum (Impressionists!), or Chicago's absolutely staggering Museum of Science and Industry.

Now that I'm in Colorado, I have to say that I genuinely do like Denver, a cleaner, warmer, and far more tolerant place than the Windy City. I've traded the Lake for the Rocky Mountains. Although the light rail is no match for the el, it's a step in the right direction. And I do very much enjoy Denver's art museum, zoo, and Natural History Museum.

But lately I've come to realize something else. First, culture costs money. I run a library district, which I consider a cultural institution, and have learned that it takes a reliable and sufficient income to open our doors every day.

Second, while culture is a pleasant amenity for adults, it is something far more to our children. Most tangibly, it is a sign that adults can, if they put their minds and their pocketbooks to it, build some pretty interesting places for kids, our malls and discount stores notwithstanding. Significant cultural institutions change lives, develop lifelong interests, and contribute to something that doesn't get much advertising: the development of a rich inner life.

I raise all this because many Douglas County citizens are facing a vote this fall: whether or not to join the Denver metropolitan area's Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. Highlands Ranch and Parker already belong, and as a result, collect some $128,000 annually, funding (among others):

* the Colorado Children's Chorale
* the Colorado Scottish Festival
* the David Taylor Dance Theatre
* the Douglas County Children's Chorus
* the Golden Eagle Brass Band
* the Imagination Makers Theater Company
* the Parker Area Historical Society
* the Parker Community Theatre
* Speaking of Dance, and
* the Town Hall Arts Center.

If successful, the vote this fall will decide whether or not Lone Tree, Acres Green, Castle Rock, and other points south of Castle Pines North will also qualify for arts grants from the SCFD, not to mention participating in existing cultural programs that now skip over us.

The vote is on the establishment of a new sales tax for those areas: a penny on every ten dollars. If the voters approve, the amount of money available to Douglas County residents will jump to over $300,000 a year.

Some people have objected to the disproportionate flow of revenue. About two-thirds of the tax stays in Denver. But that doesn't trouble me. For one thing, it was the citizens of Denver that built these institutions in the first place, not the citizens of Douglas County. For another, every time I buy anything outside of Douglas County I pay the tax anyway, and get nothing local to show for it (I live in Castle Rock). I don't object to supporting the sort of world class institutions that make the Denver metropolitan area such a wonderful place to live.

Moreover, if the tax IS established in those parts of Douglas County currently outside the district, then all of those people who come from elsewhere to buy goods at the Park Meadows Mall and the Castle Rock Factory Outlets will also be contributing to OUR local culture. And I happen to know that several Douglas County communities are having discussions about the need for performing arts space.

To me, participation in regional districts that provide quality of life services makes good planning sense.

The issue with all tax questions is the same, however. Those people who bother to show up at the voting booth are making a simple choice: do I believe that what I spend is worth what I'll get?

To put it another way, how much do Douglas County citizens value culture?

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