Open space backers bank of downvalley appeal
The proponents of a downvalley open space district hope that the cause has enough appeal across the political spectrum to outweigh anti-tax sentiments at the ballot box Nov. 7.
“We know we have the support there, but we don’t know whether we can get them to vote or not,” said Bob Schultz, a Missouri Heights resident who helped launch the effort to form the open space district.
The proposal asks voters in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle and Garfield counties to approve creation of the district and raise property taxes by 2.5 mills to raise funds to buy and preserve open space.
A poll commissioned by proponents in June showed more support than opposition in every geographic subsection of the proposed district – even among Republican males from Glenwood Spring, according to Schultz.
But proponents are suffering a case of pre-election jitters. One fear, believe it or not, is over the lack of organized opposition. Without questions and concerns to address, proponents fear they may be missing something that is on the minds of voters.
A second concern is that voters will get frustrated with such a lengthy ballot and give up before they get to the open space district questions. Numerous state, local and national issues are on the ballot – from the presidential election to statewide medical use of marijuana to the Roaring Fork Valley’s funding of a transportation district.
All told there are 20 questions regarding candidate races or judge retention and 18 issue questions.
Four questions will be asked about the open space district alone. The first will ask for voter approval to create the district. The second will seek a 2.5-mill levy increase to the property tax. A third will seek permission to issue bonds for $10 million, to be repaid by the tax increase. The last question seeks to “deBruce” the district, or allow it to keep extra revenue as the property in the district because more valuable and the same tax rate raises more revenue. The Bruce Amendment to the state Constitution prohibits keeping increases beyond modest annual growth.
Schultz said “a rule of thumb” is that 60 percent of those casting ballots will vote on candidate races and skip issue questions.
The open space backers launched a campaign last Sunday to try to ensure that doesn’t happen. The group spent between $25,000 and $30,000 just getting the open space questions on the ballot, Schultz said, so they don’t have much money left over for the campaign.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a blitz,” he said.
Instead, supporters are going door to door, establishing a phone bank to call residents and planting 250 yard signs.
“We’re relying on people power,” said Schultz.
A strength of the open space district appears to be support from across the political spectrum. Support has been enlisted from Bob Young, founder and president of Alpine Banks, and from Dick Stephenson, owner of Roaring Fork Sand and Gravel. Both of them, Schultz noted, are connected to the construction industry yet still see the value in buying and preserving open space.
But Schultz, a frequent political activist, also is realistic enough to know a large contingent of voters oppose any property tax increase, regardless of the cause.
The property tax increase of 2.5 mills is being sought because a sales tax wouldn’t work. The towns of Carbondale and Basalt already charge the maximum amount of sales tax allowed by law.
A real estate transfer tax was also impossible because new levies of that type are prohibited by the Bruce Amendment to the Colorado Constitution.
If approved, a residence with an assessed value – not a market value – of $300,000 would pay an additional $73 in property taxes per year. A business valued at $500,000 would pay $375 more per year.
The property tax would raise about $1 million annually for open space preservation. Rules that have already been drafted will require the district to spend 70 percent for property acquisition, 15 percent for recreation opportunities like trails and 15 percent for property maintenance.
The district would not develop athletic facilities like soccer fields or ballfields.
The district would also be prohibited from condemning private property. All purchases must be negotiated with willing sellers.
Property would be purchased or development rights bought and extinguished within the taxing district.
If the district passes, the initial board would include Bill Gray, a Carbondale property appraiser; Carter Jackson, a retired veterinarian and rancher; Roaring Fork Sand and Gravel’s Stephenson; Glenwood Springs attorney Charlie Willman; and Tiffany Gildred, a Basalt Planning Commission member.
There are an equal number of candidates and board positions, so no seats will be contested. Terms will be staggered, so elections will be held every other year.
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