People choose to live in Garfield County because of its outstanding scenery and wide open spaces, its parks and rivers and trails. Now voters in the county have the opportunity to make sure more of these precious places are preserved in perpetuity for the public.
Ballot Question 1A, titled Protect our Ranchlands, Rivers and Recreation Economy, is well worth the support of Garfield County voters, and we encourage a "yes" vote.
The measure would set in place a 10-year, 0.25 percent sales tax applied to purchases in Garfield County. The tax wouldn't be applied to food or prescription medicine.
Members of the Garfield Legacy Project, the citizens' group that is promoting the measure, say the tax will raise about $2 million a year, and will cost the average household in Garfield County about $3.25 per month.
Of the revenue, 75 percent is earmarked to purchase conservation easements on farms and ranches throughout the county, with a priority placed on parcels that boast overlapping values such as wildlife habitat, access to rivers or trails, or providing open space buffers between communities.
The balancing 25 percent would be offered in the form of grants to the county's six municipalities and county government for purchases of land for parks, trails and river access.
As conservation easements or land purchases, this program could also support the emerging local food movement, providing open ground for community gardens and larger scale farming and ranching.
In all cases, purchases of easements or deeds would be from willing sellers only.
Less than 5 percent is to be spent on administration within Garfield County government, and the fund would be governed by a volunteer board of nine residents appointed by the six town boards and the county commissioners.
It's a well-conceived proposal that is widely supported. The Garfield County commissioners voted 3-0 to place this measure on the ballot after polling showed it to be a winning proposal among likely voters. Even the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Holy Cross Cattlemen's Association have endorsed it.
1A is a proposal whose time has come in Garfield County.
Land values and interest rates are low, making efforts to purchase land or conservation easements less daunting than a decade ago. And the dollars raised can be used to leverage other funding for more ambitious projects, as similar programs in neighboring counties have proven.
Gunnison County, for example, is tapping $12 in grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and other sources for every $1 raised through its open space tax.
Having the ability to buy land and conservation easements will be far more effective than a hodgepodge of city and county regulations that extract open space acreage or dollars from new development.
The set-up for this program assures transparency and accountability, the cost of the tax is so minimal that it will hardly be noticed, and the goals of the program reflect widely held values of residents and tourists alike.
A "yes" vote on 1A will give our county the buying power it needs to protect our ranches, rivers, recreation economy and the reasons why we live here.