Voters asked to decide 10 year Open Lands sales tax |

Voters asked to decide 10 year Open Lands sales tax

Garfield County voters will decide in the Nov. 6 general election whether to impose a 10-year, 0.25 percent countywide sales tax to fund a program to preserve agricultural lands and create new parks and trails.

The proposed Garfield County Open Lands Program was put forward by the citizen-led Garfield Legacy Project. The volunteer group has worked for three years to do research and tailor an open space program for Garfield County.

The sales tax is estimated to generate about $2 million annually to fund a program to purchase development rights from willing agricultural landowners on a voluntary basis.

Working with a land trust, conservation easements would be placed on the lands to maintain them as working farms or ranches. The land would remain in private ownership.

A grant program would also be established to help local governments complete parks and trails projects within the county. If approved by voters, a volunteer citizen review board would be appointed by the county commissioners to consider conservation and grant proposals and generally oversee the program.

Two previous attempts at a property tax-funded open space program in the eastern part of Garfield County were rejected by voters in the early 2000s.

Members of the Protect Our Ranchlands, Rivers and Recreation Economy campaign answered these questions posed by the Post Independent.

A. Proposition 1A will support and enhance Garfield County’s economy and quality of life. It will help conserve working ranches, well-stewarded by the families of the Colorado and Roaring Fork River valleys; protect lands along rivers and streams that protect water quality; conserve wildlife habitat; and create parks, trails, river access and other amenities that enhance our economy. The program achieves this by:

1. Purchasing development rights from willing landowners using conservation easements, which keeps private land in private hands.

2. Allowing municipalities or the county to purchase land from willing landowners to create parks, trails and other community amenities.

This program is streamlined, including a 5 percent cap on administrative costs, a 10-year sunset, an independent audit, and a citizens’ review board. It provides multiple uses and benefits. It will protect water quality and quantity, Western heritage, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities that attract residents and tourists alike.

A. They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today. This is the case with this initiative for two reasons.

First, our county is projected to double in population over the next 20 years. We need to act now to protect our water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat and open lands for future generations. At the same time, we must ensure we have parks, trails and recreational amenities for our growing population.

Conserving these assets as we grow is critical to sustaining our way of life and future economy.

Secondly, our communities are competing with others throughout the state to distinguish themselves as places to visit, live, work or start a business. We have many assets that have helped our communities gain national recognition. To keep our edge we need to invest in those assets, and Proposition 1A will do that.

A. First, it is important to note that food, prescription drugs and some machinery will be exempt.

Second, because our county is such a tourist destination, only 40 percent of the revenue generated would come from Garfield resident households while the rest is generated by tourists and businesses.

The second point is important. The reason many of us live here – and why visitors, hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts come to our county – is for the natural beauty of our mountains, rivers and ranches, and our access to outdoor recreation. It just makes good economic sense for visitors to help protect the things they come to enjoy. It wouldn’t be fair to expect private landowners to support this important part of our economy alone via a property tax.

In addition, it is a relatively small tax that directly benefits our economy and automatically expires in 10 years.

A. The program will cost the average household, not individual, about $3.25 per month. More than half would come from visitors and businesses that are doing business in the county. The program will also help leverage additional funding, bringing more dollars into our communities from Great Outdoors Colorado, which is funded by the lottery. For example, Gunnison County’s program, which was a model for what is being proposed here, brings in $12 for every $1 spent by the program.

A. Now more than ever, our communities need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack by preserving what sets us apart – our wildlife, agriculture and small town charm – while investing in amenities like parks and trails to ensure this is a great place to live 20 years down the road.

Proposition 1A helps conserve places we cherish while promoting our economy, helping maintain local food production, providing access to rivers and public lands, and conserving ever-shrinking habitat for wildlife viewing and hunting.

This is about protecting the goose that laid the golden egg. Few of us have made Garfield County our home because it looks just like Anywhere USA. We love the beauty, the Western spirit, the wildlife, playing on the rivers and the solitude of hiking in open spaces. It is also why tourism has always been a major economic engine for Garfield County.

All over the state, local communities have realized the importance of investing in natural resources and landscapes, just as they invest in roads and infrastructure. Economic development professionals know that as workers become more mobile, they are choosing to live in places with high quality of life, and companies follow skilled workers.

This is an investment everyone in Garfield County can get behind. Proposition 1A is the product of hundreds of hours of citizen input, and is representative of Garfield County’s unique needs and values. Conservation only happens with willing landowners, conservation creates economic opportunity, and conservation and energy development can coexist.

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