Guest opinion: Summit County voters must support arts and culture at the ballot box
The reauthorization of the RAP Tax will be on the November ballot as Proposition 21. Every Summit County voter must become aware of Prop 21, be knowledgeable about the RAP Tax and understand the importance to Summit County.
The RAP (recreation, arts, & parks) Tax is a 0.10% (one-tenth of a cent) local non-food sales-and-use tax, which residents of Summit County have levied on themselves to support nonprofit cultural and botanical organizations and to improve publicly owned recreational facilities and parks that are in or operate within Summit County. Actually, tourist spending accounts for over half of the money generated, while 100% of it is used directly for the benefit of Summit County residents. The money is split 50/50 between allocations for culture and allocations for recreation. This is not a new tax but a 10-year continuation of an old one. The RAP Tax was first initiated in 2000, renewed in 2010 and is up for reauthorization this year. With each election, a 10-year sunset has been placed on the tax, which means that the RAP Tax will expire at the end of 2020 unless the voters approve it again this year.
I want to discuss the cultural part of RAP Tax. We in Summit County are blessed to have so many cultural institutions right here in our community. They entertain us, they educate us. The depth, breadth and quality of these organizations and their offerings is what makes Summit County an incredible place to call home, draws in visitors and distinguishes Summit County from other “recreational tourist areas.” How many areas of comparable size have 1) four different museums (art; snow sports and snow; environment and nature; local history and Smithsonian exhibits) 2) performance and/or music almost every day of the year 3) an arts festival 4) an international film festival 5) an art house cinema 6) an eco-center 7) an art center 8) a ballet academy of a renowned ballet company 9) access to a top symphony orchestra 10) a weekly summer market with music and performances 11) and a local public radio station.
Even in good times, our cultural institutions operate on lean and mean budgets. Due to social distancing and gathering restrictions associated with COVID-19, they have been forced to cancel scheduled events and/or curtail their programming. With the absence of ticket sales and the decline in fees, these organizations are now losing income. At the same time, expenses are increasing as they conform to new health requirements and standards. RAP Tax money is allocated annually to applicants based on their needs and what they provide throughout the county. Traditionally, the cultural organizations looked to the RAP Tax for supplemental funding to expand their programming. Now, RAP Tax money has become a safety net so they can continue to operate. It should be noted that even under extreme stress, everyone of the cultural organizations who received 2020 RAP Tax funding developed creative ways to adapt and refocus their programming, so they can continue to serve our community in this upsetting time.
The county should continue to invest in them. This unprecedented period has given us an opportunity to reflect on the value of the arts and cultural programming in Summit County and how much they are missed when they are cut or reduced. An additional penny paid on $10 spent is a small contribution to make, but a crucial source of funding for the cultural organizations that provide so much for Summit County. A “Yes” vote on Prop 21 “Reauthorization of the RAP/Tax” is your pledge toward their future.
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