March 24, 2002
Before a half-truth becomes common knowledge, I’d like to give the other side of the story as regards the ranchers walking out of our meeting last week – clarifying Allyn Harvey’s story and Mick Ireland’s comments.
Allyn’s article stated that the ranchers were mad because the new zoning would not allow them to build on 35-acre tracts. That is not true.
The ranchers proposed 70-acre minimum lot sizes in their own Agricultural Plan. What they were mad about was 2000-square-foot houses and mandatory conservation easements on 80 percent of their land.
Mick correctly states that the agricultural lands pay a drastically reduced property tax and are granted the right to graze cattle on federally owned lands at little cost. He also implies, erroneously, that owners of trailers pay more in property taxes than ranchers.
Agricultural lands and open space are assessed at the same discounted rate. The ranch house is assessed at the higher residential rate. We the taxpayers have accepted this discount because it works in our favor.
Open space requires tax money to care for the land. “Once irrigated pastures” have to be weeded and planted to return them to their natural state. Lands that are pristine manage themselves by fire, and those fires require tax money to contain them.
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Agricultural lands on the other hand come with ranchers who perform the management of these open lands for us. For the price of a reduced property tax, we receive maintenance labor/expertise and no subdivisions marring our landscape. And we don’t have to tax ourselves to buy the land.
Even if we’d prefer subdivisions to allowing this tax break we’d still not break even financially. In the state of Colorado commercial property pays the tax bill. Every house we build is a lost leader if the occupants don’t purchase all their goods in the county.
The second point made is that ranchers use federal lands for pasture at little cost. If you consume beef, be glad they do or you’d be paying Japanese prices at $15 to $20 per pound. As an aside, it is the middlemen who make the big money, not the farmer. But I digress.
The ranchers have heard Mick Ireland’s comments on many occasions. He harps on these issues because he believes the ranching community is claiming “unfair” wrongfully. Sometimes, even the best of us just get plain mad when we hear the same accusations thrown at us over and over again.
What is important is: we stay on topic, avoid personal attacks, and continue to work together to retain the beauty of this valley.
Pitkin County Commissioner