Garfield County voters reject open space tax
Ryan Summerlin November 7, 2012
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Voters in Garfield County have, for a third time, turned down a tax proposal aimed at creating an agriculture land conservation, open space and parks program in the county.
Question 1A on Tuesday’s ballot would have imposed a 10-year, 0.25 percent sales tax, generating an estimated $2 million per year to run the Garfield County open lands program.
The unopfficial final vote count late Tuesday night had the measure failing 12,631 votes, or 55 percent, against 10,197 (45 percent) in favor.
“I think it’s just the idea of a new tax, and that people feel inundated with so many different taxes right now,” said Mary Noone of Glenwood Springs, who helped initiate the Ranchlands, Rivers and Recreation Economy campaign.
“Even though 25 cents on every $100 is not a lot, it’s still a tax,” she said.
It’s the third time in a dozen years that an open space tax question has failed in Garfield County.
Two previous attempts in the early 2000s would have used a property tax mill levy to fund conservation easements and open space purchases in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county.
The latest effort instead proposed a sales tax on all retail purchases except food and prescription drugs. It also expanded the scope to include the entire county.
“I believe it was a balanced program, and that we listened to everyone in Garfield County to create something for Garfield County,” said Clark Anderson of the Sonoran Institute, which also supported the open space effort.
While there was some voter confusion about the program and how it would work, Clark chalked the election outcome up to the still-lagging economy.
“What really happened today had to do with the national economy, and the global economy, more than what’s going on in Garfield County,” he said. “I’m proud that we ran a clean, bipartisan campaign. I don’t think we could have done anything differently.”
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he was skeptical that voters would support the open space tax proposal, though he agreed along with the other two commissioners to put the question on the ballot.
“It was the wrong time to run any tax question in Garfield County,” Jankovsky said.
Although Rifle voters approved a city sales tax increase to fund water plant improvements in Tuesday’s election, Jankovsky said it may be a “difference between needing something and wanting something.”
He said the voters’ mood may change on an open space tax when real estate development picks up again.
“That’s the time to put this kind of question out there,” Jankovsky said.
Noone and Anderson also both said the Ranchlands, Rivers and Recreation Economy proposal provides a good foundation for a future effort.