Pitkin County open space tax reauthorized until 2040
Pitkin County Ballot Issue 1A*
*Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder results as of midnight Wednesday.
Voters reauthorized Pitkin County’s open space property tax for another 20 years Tuesday by a margin of about 70 percent to 30 percent.
“It’s gratifying to see that open space is not a political issue,” said Hawk Greenway, chairman of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board. “Open space seems to be good for everybody.”
Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program is considered by many to be one of the crown jewels of the area. It owns 4,700 acres outright and protects another approximately 15,000 acres through conservation easements.
The program has provided the Aspen area with some of its most loved and most used recreational spots, including Smuggler Mountain, the Hunter Creek Valley, North Star Nature Preserve and Sky Mountain Park. Popular trails maintained by the program include the Rio Grande l, Hunter Creek and the East of Aspen trails.
So, while few thought the property tax reauthorization wouldn’t pass, opposition to it arose anyway. Critics challenged the length of the reauthorization — it isn’t scheduled to expire until the end of 2019 so it will run from 2020 until the end of the year 2039 — as well as the program’s mission and attitude and the amount of the tax.
The 3.75 open space mill levy generated about $11 million in 2015, according to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. The mill levy costs property owners $29.85 per $100,000 of residential property value.
Mike Maple, a longtime Aspen resident, told The Aspen Times last month the open space tax constitutes 52 percent of the county’s property tax bill and should not be reauthorized for another 20 years.
Others criticized program administrators for a perceived bias toward mountain bikers and hikers and not enough emphasis on equestrian activity and wildlife protection.
Supporters of the program, however, pointed out that the tens of millions of dollars in assets controlled by the program need long-term management and, thus, long-term funding.
The issue also came up in the Pitkin County commissioner District 3 race between Greg Poschman and Scott Writer.
Poschman questioned whether the 20-year reauthorization was too long and would allow and entire generation to pass before it came before voters again. Poschman also said he’d heard some county residents call the Open Space and Trails board an “old boys club” and questioned whether it was as attuned to residents’ needs.
Poschman said Tuesday he voted for the reauthorization and that “a lot of people are happy it’s renewed.” He also said he believes he brought up good points about the program during the campaign and that he thinks the open space question would have had more support if it had been for less than 20 years.
During the campaign, Poschman also called for term limits for the volunteer board. On Tuesday, he said he wants to encourage more people to become involved with the numerous volunteer boards.
“I encourage everyone to get involved,” Poschman said. “We need fresh blood.”
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The field for three open seats on Aspen City Council in this spring’s election is set at 10 people, most of who are newcomers to Aspen’s political scene. Eight are going for the two council seats and two candidates are vying for mayor.