Glenwood Springs City Council endorses open space initiative 1A
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The Glenwood Springs City Council voted 3-2 at its Thursday meeting to endorse the Garfield County open space sales tax initiative that’s on the Nov. 6 ballot.
While the City Council vote came out in favor of endorsing the proposal being put forth by the Ranchlands, Rivers and Recreation Economy campaign, some council members said they were uncomfortable making a public endorsement as an elected body.
“I’m personally in favor of it, and I voted for it,” Councilman Ted Edmonds said. “But I remain philosophically opposed to this board taking positions on ballot measures.”
Edmonds made the same argument during the November 2011 election when the Glenwood council was asked to endorse the Roaring Fork School District mill levy override question.
“I wish you luck, and I think it’s a great initiative,” Councilman Todd Leahy said of the open space proposal. “But I think people should decide for themselves.”
Mayor Matt Steckler was the only member of the council who expressed reservations about a sales tax proposal, especially as the economy is still emerging from a recession.
“I appreciate the effort, but we’re still having a hard time with sales tax,” Steckler said.
“And, from the Glenwood Springs perspective, this does have the potential to impact us more,” he said of the fact that Glenwood Springs businesses are the largest sales tax generators in Garfield County.
“It’s hard for me to support this in 2012,” Steckler said.
Question 1A would create a countywide agricultural land conservation and recreational open space program through a 10-year, 0.25 percent sales tax.
Under the program, a representative board would work with willing landowners to preserve working ranches and farms, and protect critical wildlife habitat and riverfront areas through the purchase of conservation easements.
A local grant fund would also be established to help create parks, trails, river access and other amenities intended to benefit Garfield County’s recreation economy.
The proposed sales tax would not be applied to food or prescription drug purchases, and there would be a 5 percent cap on program administration costs.
Voters will decide the open space question in balloting that will be completed on Tuesday.
Council ended up giving its formal endorsement to the open space tax proposal, with councilmen Stephen Bershenyi, Leo McKinney and Dave Sturges in favor, and Steckler and Edmonds opposed.
Council members Leahy and Mike Gamba abstained, allowing the vote to go in favor of the endorsement.
“All of the important entities in the county have backed this publicly, and I would hope that kind of leadership will have some meaning to our constituents,” Bershenyi said in pushing for the endorsement. “We should have the political will to take a public position on an issue this important.”
Glenwood Springs joins the town boards of New Castle and Carbondale in formally endorsing the open space question. The governing boards of Rifle, Parachute and Silt were not approached about making an endorsement, campaign backers Mary Noone and Clark Anderson said.
Anderson noted that the proposed sales tax, based on the group’s estimates, would cost the average Garfield County family about $3.50 per month.
“That’s less than the cost of a gallon of gas to help keep our economic engine running,” Anderson said.
In other business at the Nov. 1 meeting, City Council:
• On a 6-1 vote, agreed to put a question on the April 2013 municipal election ballot seeking authorization from city voters to sell a piece of city-owned property in the 700 block of Colorado Avenue to Garfield County. The vote would not mean the city would have to follow through in selling the parcel, Councilman Mike Gamba noted.
“But this is our last opportunity to get it on the ballot for the April election,” he said. “Just because the voters authorize us to sell it doesn’t mean we have to.”
The city is in early negotiations to sell the parcel to the county for it to build a public parking structure in the area. The county has already purchased the property south of the city-owned parcel. The city and county also jointly own the existing parking lot to the north at Colorado and Seventh.
Councilman Dave Sturges dissented in the vote. He said the city needs a firm development plan from the county to present to voters before asking for authorization to sell the land.
“I don’t see this as advisable at this time, when we don’t have a plan for a structure in this particular location,” Sturges said.
• Unanimously approved a plan to seek proposals and offer a $10,000 financial incentive for an operator to build a compressed natural gas fueling station in Glenwood Springs. The city will apply to the Garfield County commissioners for a $90,000 match. The formal request for proposals will not be issued unless the county agrees to its end of the proposed deal.
• Gave initial approval to the 2013 city budget on a 7-0 vote. Council will follow up with a formal appropriation of funds to round out the budget approval at a meeting in December.
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Burning Mountain Park in New Castle will illuminate Saturday evening at the town’s Holiday Tree Lighting and Chili Cook-off between 5 and 7 p.m.