Eagle County will decide the fate of open space program | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County will decide the fate of open space program

A new citizens’ group contends that Eagle County needs a publicly funded open space program to help offset the explosive growth in the area.

Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space convinced the county commissioners recently to place a property tax hike on the Nov. 5 ballot. The proposal hasn’t formally made the ballot yet, but must only meet some routine, technical steps to be official, said Eagle County Clerk Sara Fisher.

Although the initiative sounds like it is intended only for the Eagle Valley, the proposal would also affect the western sliver of the county in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Voters countywide will decide if a 1.5 mil levy should be added to property taxes. A similar proposal failed by a wide margin in 1994.

Leaders of the citizens’ group claim sentiments have changed after eight years of steady growth and that citizens are ready for an open space tax. Other resort counties in Colorado ? such as Pitkin, Routt and Summit ? already have a property tax for open space.

If approved, the proposal would raise an estimated $2.9 million per year. The funds would be administered by Eagle County officials.

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In the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, voters will also determine the fate of a proposed recreation district (see related story).

The open space tax will be one of several important candidate races and ballot issues facing Eagle County voters this fall.

County voters will also settle whether term limits on county elected officials should be retained or removed. Term limits are forcing county Clerk Fisher and Sheriff A. J. Johnson out of office this year.

Voters will be asked individual questions on whether the limit of two terms of four years each should be removed for the assessor, clerk, county commissioners, coroner, sheriff, surveyor and treasurer.

Among the candidate races, the county commissioner District 3 race is the most hotly contested. That district includes the Basalt and El Jebel areas, although all county voters can cast a ballot in the race.

Incumbent Tom Stone, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Gerry Sandberg and independent Laurie Bower.

Stone, who took office four years ago, is promoting his experience and accomplishments as reasons to keep him in office. In his campaign literature, he said he kept a promise of providing ball fields “for the children of the Roaring Fork Valley.” He was referring to Eagle County’s investment in sprinkler systems, grading and seeding of soccer fields at the former Mount Sopris Tree Farm.

Under a heading of “innovations and progress,” Stone took credit for helping get the new community center and county office building open in El Jebel. The structure features offices for the clerk, social services, courts, and sheriff ? as well as meeting space for public use.

Stone is a real estate agent who lives in Gypsum.

Sandberg, a Democrat, is the chief investigator for the 5th Judicial District. He has a long record of community service, including seven years on the Eagle County School Board and service on the Gypsum Town Council.

Sandberg spent four years in active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps and received his master’s degree in education after his time in the military. He spent 10 years as a teacher in Illinois before moving to Eagle County in 1980.

In his campaign material, he said he wants to continue his achievements in public service.

“My overriding belief is that the office of county commissioner should not be a political office, but a public service office driven by community service and consensus building,” his material said. “I am instilled with a sense of obligation to help preserve Eagle County’s past, while at the same time ensuring that we work for a better future keeping in mind why we choose to live here.”

Bower jumped into the race in July when she decided to collect enough signatures to get onto the November ballot as an independent. She noted that candidates in recent years have been determined by only about 9 percent of voters who participate in primaries.

“We are supposed to live in a democracy, but when just 9 percent of the voters determine the candidates, and then less than one fourth of the population actually votes, this does not provide for a very vibrant or effective system of government,” she said.

Bower has been a housing planner with the Eagle County Housing Department for about a year. She is also a licensed real estate agent and resident of Gypsum.

In her campaign literature, she outlined five keys to her platform:

responsible growth and land planning; continued commitment to affordable housing; effective resource management; economic development and diversification; and attention to community safety issues.

In other contested races in Eagle County, Earlene Roach, Democrat, and Teak Simonton, Republican, are vying for the clerk and recorder’s position.

Republican Bruce Campbell is squaring off against Kara Bettis, Democrat, for coroner.

Current deputies William Kaufman, Democrat, and Joe Hoy, Republican, are trying to win the top cop job in the county.

Joyce Mack is running unopposed for assessor. Karen Schaeffer is unopposed as treasurer. Dan Corcoran is unopposed as surveyor. All three are Republicans.

Early voting will start Oct. 21.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]