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May 23, 2012
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Open space tax survey starting next week

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - A group that's hoping to put an open space tax question on the November ballot in Garfield County will begin polling next week to gauge voter support for such a measure.

The Garfield Legacy Project is floating a proposal for a quarter cent (0.25 percent) sales tax to fund a countywide land conservation and open space program.

At that rate, the sales tax is expected to cost the average family about $39 per year, Garfield Legacy Project founding board member Mary Noone said during a project update given to the Garfield Board of County Commissioners on Monday.

"The idea of another tax, we understand, is hard to swallow," she said. "That's why we want to do the polling beforehand."

As initially proposed, the tax would sunset after 10 years. It is estimated to generate between $2 million and $2.5 million per year to support open space preservation efforts in Garfield County.

The Legacy Project involves a group of citizens and partner organizations that have been working over the past three years to establish a tax-funded voluntary open lands program in the county.

Last fall, the group completed a "Greenprint for Conservation and Economic Opportunity," based on surveys and public input meetings across the county. It identified several benefits of open lands programs, including:

• Conserving working ranches and farms.

• Preserving and enhancing recreation and tourism.

• Preserving water quality and quantity.

• Creating open land buffers around communities.

• Enhancing trail systems.

• Protecting wildlife habitat and native plants.

In 2010, county commissioners formally surveyed residents to gauge support for publicly funded transportation services, as well as for open space conservation and trails.

That poll revealed that 52 percent of respondents would likely support a sales tax for an open space and trails program, while only 35 percent would support a property tax initiative.

"The results showed that, while a majority of county residents were in favor of open lands conservation, the time was not right to create a funded program because of economic conditions," according to the group's written presentation to the county commissioners on Monday.

Noone, along with Legacy Project board member Dave Devanney, said the group has obtained funding from the Aspen Environment Foundation, the Aspen Valley Land Trust, the Sonoran Institute and The Trust for Public Land to conduct another poll.

The Legacy Project intends to use the same public opinion polling consultants, Public Opinion Strategies, to do the new poll starting the week of May 28. Results are expected in mid-June.

The group tentatively scheduled a June 19 meeting with the county commissioners to share the poll results and determine how to proceed. Commissioners have indicated that they would like to see in the range of 60 percent support for the open space tax in the survey before agreeing to put the question on the fall ballot.

Meanwhile, the Legacy Project is planning another series of open houses between June 11-13 to present maps showing areas of the county that "best meet the goals identified in the Greenprint process," Devanney said.

County commissioners have also said they would prefer a program focused more on agricultural land conservation that keeps the land in the hands of ranching families. Routt County's tax-funded purchase of development rights program, which places conservation easements on ranch lands, has been suggested as a possible model for Garfield County.

"We looked extensively at Routt County's program, and incorporated ideas we have heard at our meetings with you, municipal governments, attendees at Greenprint meetings and elsewhere," according to the group's written presentation.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated May 23, 2012 12:59AM Published May 23, 2012 12:54AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.