Voters to decide open space tax reallocation
Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday supported efforts by the county’s Open Space and Trails Board to ask voters in November to extend and tweak its mandate.
The program is currently funded by a tax rate of 3.75 mills that is set to expire in 2020. The open space board initially proposed keeping that tax rate the same but extending it for another 25 years until 2045.
However, a majority of commissioners and some members of the open space board who attended Tuesday’s commissioner work session agreed that a 20-year extension until 2040 is a better length of time.
“2040 has a ring to it,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “I kind of like that.”
Open space board members also want to change the way the money they collect is spent, said Dale Will, director of the open space program. Specifically, they want to alter the ratios of how that money is spent so that less would go toward acquisitions and more for maintaining and managing the land and trails the program already owns, he said.
Again, a majority of commissioners were supportive of that change.
The last thing the open space board wants to do is be able to take care of any historic structures on open space it owns as well as be able to invest in bicycle and pedestrian lanes alongside county roads, Will said.
Commissioners also thought that was a good idea.
Commissioner Michael Owsley said he thought open space funds should not be restricted at all in terms of how much should go toward acquisitions or maintenance. Also, the tax that supports it should have no sunset clause and should instead be levied in perpetuity, he said.
“I think this is one of the most acceptable programs the county has ever had,” Owsley said.
The open space board also wanted direction on whether it should spend thousands of dollars on polling to find out how voters feel about the changes it wants to make. Most commissioners thought that unnecessary because the open space board already performs a lot of public outreach and the program is popular.
However, Commissioner Rachel Richards said she supports polling because it educates voters and provides valuable information.
The original open space tax of 2.5 mills passed with 55 percent voter approval in 1990, according to a memo from Will. Voters passed the current mill rate of 3.75 in 1999 by a 68 percent margin, the memo states. That rate was reapproved by 73 percent of voters in 2006.
The program currently manages “over 20,000 acres of priceless public assets ranging from unique habitats to the valley’s best farmland and a nationally known trail system,” according to Will’s memo. In order for a ballot question to appear on the November ballot, the language must be submitted by mid-June, Will said.
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