Proponents of open space vow to keep seeking funds |

Proponents of open space vow to keep seeking funds

Supporters of a downvalley open space district convinced voters that the program was worth creating but will have to wait until next November to try to get funding.

Voters in the Roaring Fork Valley portions of Eagle and Garfield counties combined to send a mixed message on election day. They voted more than 2-to-1 to establish the Roaring Fork Open Space District, but they voted 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent to reject a property tax that would have supplied money to acquire and preserve land.

So while the election established the Open Space District and a five-member board of directors, they don’t have any money to work with.

The outcome, said Bill Gray, who was elected to a board position, lacks logic.

“It’s like telling you you can have a new car but you can’t have an engine,” said Gray.

Voters in both counties supported formation of the district. In a separate ballot question, the property-tax proposal was narrowly approved in Eagle County by a vote of 1,198 to 1,051.

That margin wasn’t enough to offset the defeat of the property tax in Garfield County, where 4,226, or 53 percent, said no to 3,764, or 47 percent, affirmative votes.

In two related ballot questions, voters of the counties combined to approve bonding authority for the district and gave permission to “de-Bruce” or keep growing tax revenues in future years. The property-tax increase was the only one of the four ballot questions that lost.

Bob Schultz, an organizer of the open space initiative, said he will advise the newly elected board members to carry through with the formation of the district, then go back to voters with another property-tax proposal in November 2001.

That decision will be left to a board comprised of Tiffany Gildred, Carter Jackson, Richard Stephenson and Charles Willman in addition to Gray.

Schultz said he isn’t willing to give up on the Open Space District.

“I’ve worked on this since February 1999, and we’re 90 percent of the way there,” he said.

He said he felt the campaign was well planned and executed, “but we obviously missed something.” The question is, what? “My guess is there’s probably 20 messages,” he said.

Voters may not have understood that a property tax was the only funding option. State law prohibited the Open Space District from proposing a transfer tax on real estate sales as a revenue source. And Basalt and Eagle County cannot impose any larger sales tax.

Like Schultz, Gray said the district proponents could approach voters again for funding next year – when the ballot isn’t as crowded. But some prime properties will likely be sold by then.

“We felt we would’ve had a lot of property owners approach us if this thing had passed,” said Gray.

Schultz said development over the next year could help earn approval next November for another property-tax proposal. Each time people see “another ranch destroyed” they might be more willing to tax themselves to preserve land.

“The developers are working for us,” he said.

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