Open Space question almost ready for vote |

Open Space question almost ready for vote

Pitkin County officials have finished honing the ballot wording asking for the continuation of the county’s Open Space and Trails program.

The county will ask voters to allow the 9-year-old Open Space and Trails program to continue for another 10 years with its tax levy increased to 3.75 mills, and with $12 million in additional bonding capacity. The ballot language must be filed with the county recorder by Sept. 8 if it is to be included on the November ballot.

The Open Space board met with the county commissioners yesterday and generally agreed on the final changes made to a draft of the ballot proposal. The commissioners will hold a public hearing and vote for the final time on the measure next Wednesday.

A smaller group made up of representatives of the commissioners, the Open Space Board and the county’s financial advisory board, or FAB, met last Friday and made the final adjustments to the language.

Yesterday, the two boards also discussed changes in the charter that governs the program. The section on depositing and spending Open Space money separate from other county funds was expanded to allow money to be spent for staffing the program.

The allocation of funds has also been changed slightly. The program’s funding was previously allocated so that 70 percent would go to acquisition of open space property, 20 percent to acquisition and construction of trails and trailheads, and 10 percent for maintenance. The change will allow 75 percent of the program’s money to go to acquisition, and 5 percent to maintenance. In the program’s first nine years, a surplus has accumulated in the maintenance allotment.

The maximum repayment amount for the $12 million in new bonding would be $34 million, over a period of years, according to a memo prepared by Tom Oken, the county’s administrative services director.

Open Space Director Dale Will said the FAB originally discussed increasing the program’s authority to issue bonds, for the purpose of land acquisition, to the extent of $25 million. The idea behind that would have been that more land should be bought sooner, because land prices are expected to continue to increase faster than the interest increases on bonded indebtedness.

But because they felt $25 million in debt could be scary to the electorate, the group decided that $12 million would be more likely to receive a favorable vote. The program has $6 million in unused bonding capacity remaining from its initial authorization, but several acquisition deals are said to be close to being finalized.

The Open Space Board at first considered extending the program 20 years, on the suggestion of attorney Fred Peirce, one of the founders of the program. Peirce came up with the longer term idea as a way of avoiding the hassle of putting the program on the ballot again in another 10 years.

But FAB members were adamant in opposing the 20-year term, said Open Space Board Chairman Bill Fales, because that is simply too far into the future to even guess what might happen to land prices, population, taxes and other factors.

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