Open space program needs more scrutiny
September 22, 2011
I commend the Pitkin County commissioners for indicating some push-back on the open space staff and board’s latest request for maximum open space tax assessments for the coming tax year.
While I appreciate and utilize open space, all government programs should be regularly evaluated and modified with resources increased, reduced or eliminated with the change in needs. Since 2000, Pitkin County open space property taxes have exceeded $100 million with the annual taxes increasing by 132 percent from 50 percent of the county’s property tax collections to over 58 percent.
The county and city open space program has been highly productive and the efforts of elected officials, staff and volunteers should be applauded. In recognition of past success, the program should be reviewed. In my opinion, county and city acquisitions have largely run their course as the most important lands have already been acquired including Droste/Brush Creek, Deer Hill, Red Butte/Stein, Smuggler, North Star, Moore, Marolt, Crown, Grange, Cozy Point and many others.
While I am sure there are attractive parcels to be acquired, the largest and most important lands that are in highly visible and accessible areas have been acquired and therefore fewer resources should be devoted to ongoing open space acquisitions. Restrictive land-use policies severely limit the development risk of significant tracts of land and therefore largely assure visual qualities will be preserved. Equally, more resources, not just as percentage of open space tax revenues but in absolute terms, should be devoted to managing and improving access and trails within the large inventory of existing public open spaces.
With the past success of open space programs and an economy that continues to falter, the county leadership should evaluate how our total county tax burden and expenditures are allocated and devote fewer resources to discretionary choices such as open space while devoting relatively more resources to basic needs such as infrastructure, roadways and public safety.
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