Pitkin County Open Space program to issue millions in bonds to help acquire more land | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County Open Space program to issue millions in bonds to help acquire more land

A wildlife camera captured this photo of bighorn sheep on national forest lands downstream from Filoha Meadows in February.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails/courtesy photo

Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program will issue up to $20 million in bonds to raise money to acquire new property and improve current assets.

County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved the action, which allows the program to take advantage of historically low interest rates to acquire property now rather than wait and have to pay inevitable future higher prices given the Aspen area’s booming real estate market, OST officials said.

“This is a great opportunity,” Commissioner George Newman said. “The timing is just right. We’ve got our eyes on some great property acquisitions that will require significant dollars.”

The Open Space program is funded by a property tax mill levy approved by county voters for another 20 years, and currently brings in between $12 million and $13 million per year, according to county financial officials. The bonds would cost about $865,000 a year to pay back.

However, the program has already spent $6.2 million to date this year to purchase Cora May mining claims and the 400-plus acre Thompson Divide Ranch, according to Gary Tennenbaum, program director, and an OST memo to commissioners. In addition, OST is about to spend another $9 million on a conservation easement for the Carbondale-area Sunfire Ranch and contribute $2 million toward Aspen Valley Land Trust’s acquisition of Coffman Ranch, according to the memo.

“We are presently seeking contracts for additional critical large scale conservation projects,” the memo states. “We are not able to name those here due to the nature of ongoing negotiations.”

Those projects will cost “dramatically” more than is left in the program’s fund balance for this year and next year, the memo states.

Voters in 2006 approved the program’s ability to issue up to $20 million on bonds, said Dale Will, OST’s acquisition director. And because interest rates are so low, the cost of borrowing money to buy land now or in the near future will be less than the cost of real estate in the future, he said.

In addition to acquisition of new land, the money will go toward capital improvements like constructing a trail from the Aspen Business Center to the Brush Creek park and ride lot, Tennenbaum said.

The bonds won’t increase property tax bills, Will said.

Howie Mallory, a member of the Open Space and Trails Board, said the public would question whether the program was being prudent if it didn’t take advantage of the low interest rate bonding opportunity.

The public will be able to comment on the bond issuance during the commissioners’ meeting Aug. 26.


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