Garfield County survey: Voters support RFTA, trails and land conservation |

Garfield County survey: Voters support RFTA, trails and land conservation

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GARFIELD COUNTY – A recent survey of Garfield County voters showed majority support for a “trails and land conservation” program, but a reluctance to go along with a tax increase to pay for it, at least right now.

And, according to the survey results, a majority of county voters are in favor of sticking with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to run buses to western Garfield County, rather than supporting the county’s bid to form its own transportation district.

The survey, by Public Opinion Strategies and paid for by the Trust for Public Lands and Garfield County, was conducted in early June by telephone with 300 respondents “distributed proportionally throughout the county and … demographically representative of voters likely to participate in a Nov. 2010 election,” according to a powerpoint presentation made to the board of county commissioners in June.

The survey showed that the dominant concern among 52 percent of county residents is the economy – unemployment, 21 percent; the recession, 15 percent; and a decline in gas-drilling activity, 6 percent, among others.

That concern dwarfed worries about the environment (12 percent), immigration (5 percent), taxes (4 percent) and public transportation (1 percent), among other issues.

Transportation, however, was a focus of the survey, which showed that among respondents only 45 percent would vote to increase taxes to pay the projected $1.3 million to start up and run a county-sponsored bus system. The county has been considering such a move since last year.

Some 52 percent said they would not vote for a tax hike to pay for a transportation system. Opposition to a tax-supported local bus authority jumped to 62 percent if it were to be paid for using a $10 car registration.

And a total of 68 percent of respondents said they would prefer to have RFTA continue to run the buses in Garfield County.

Turning to questions about trails and land conservation, 52 percent of respondents said they would support a land conservation and trails program if it were paid for by a sales tax hike. Only 35 percent would go along with a property tax hike to achieve the same purpose.

But whatever the method of support, a majority, 55 percent, said they would pay up to $20 personally to support a conservation program.

In addition, at least 51 percent of the respondents indicated that, if a funding mechanism were passed by the voters, they would endorse using the money to protect working ranches and agricultural lands; protect the “character of our communities” and protect tourism; wildlife habitat; local “quality of life” and riverbanks.

“Fully 85 percent want the county to invest in conservation, but a plurality are not sure the time to start is now,” due to concerns about the economy, according to the presentation.

“People were all for this kind of stuff,” noted Jock Jacober, a member of the Trails and Land Conservation Initiative that has been studying open space issues for Garfield County.

He said the TLC, as it is known, will be looking at different potential financing options over the coming months, perhaps even a year or two.

“We have the opportunity to sit down and continue the dialogue,” he said, which will include getting information out to the public and to the board of county commissioners as time goes by.

Clark Anderson of the Sonoran Institute, which is working with the county and the TLC on open space issues, stressed that the goal is to come up with a program designed specifically for Garfield County, rather than copy a program from a nearby county.

He noted that all of the counties surrounding Garfield County, other than Rio Blanco, have adopted open space programs already.

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