Voters likely to make open-space decision in the fall |

Voters likely to make open-space decision in the fall

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County officials are working on just what they should ask voters when the county’s Open Space and Trails program seeks reauthorization for another 20 years.

The county is leaning toward going to the voters to renew the program this year, although its charter doesn’t run out until next year. A discussion on specifics of the ballot language took up a good portion of a meeting between the Open Space and Trails Board and county commissioners Thursday.

There was consensus on some items, while others remain to be resolved. The boards hashed out such issues as how long the program should last, its level of taxation, the maximum amount of bond debt, and how the program’s funds should be divided.

A 1990 ballot question, crafted by a citizens task force, brought the program into being. It sought a 2.5-mil levy for acquisition and maintenance of open-space properties and trails, which was to raise $1.3 million annually. The wording also gave bonding authority to the commissioners to raise up to $12 million to be paid back over a 30-year period.

Everyone present Thursday agreed that a 20-year reauthorization should be sought. The program began in 1990 with a 10-year trial term; its success and its perceived importance to county citizens made the 20-year extension an easy choice.

There was general agreement, too, on a proposal to increase the program’s mil levy by 50 percent, from 2.5 to 3.75 mils – a levy projected to raise $5 million in 2001. The rationale is that if undeveloped properties are not purchased in the next few critical years, the parcels will either be too expensive to acquire, or they will not remain undeveloped.

For the same reason, those present supported expanding the program’s allowable level of bond indebtedness. The program currently has used half its $12 million in bonding capacity, and the county has only another $4 million. Based on the assessed valuation of property, the county is allowed a total of $36 million in bonding capacity. It was suggested that the program ask for another $6 million, for a total bonding capacity of $18 million.

The tax revenue received by the program is now divided at 70 percent to land acquisition, 20 percent to trail acquisition and 10 percent to maintenance, with staff costs provided by whichever account benefits from staff work. Because the program has accumulated a surplus of $1.5 million in its maintenance fund, the proposed split for the reauthorized program would be 75 percent for properties, 20 percent for trails and five percent for maintenance.

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