I have been asked about my position on the open space tax more than any other issue during this campaign.
I think this is a hot topic because it crosses multiple issues: the use of precious tax dollars, environmental preservation, recreational access, economic development and having a voice in local government.
County residents voted the open space tax into existence in 2002. This property tax equals $13 per every $100,000 in property owned. That's $59 per year for the county's median home value of $449,000.
According to the ballot language, the tax cannot be used for anything besides the purchase and maintenance of open space and will sunset the end of 2025.
It is important to me that the community believes there is a public benefit.
On the campaign trail, I have been asking residents about the open space tax issue. When people learn that the funds are being used to acquire new and better public access to rivers and trails, most have given a positive response.
In fact, all current open space projects include substantial public access components that will benefit boaters, anglers, hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, equestrians and others.
This has become a key economic-development strategy. For example, the program has opened three boat-launch sites on the Colorado River. Upper State Bridge handles more than 65,000 river days per year, and the new parcels downstream will take the pressure off this one area and provide more capacity for visitors.
It is also important to me that the program be able to leverage funding and other resources to stretch our tax dollars.
The county is a recent recipient of a $4.6 million Great Outdoors Colorado grant, funded with lottery dollars. This money will supplement the open space funds, so the county will only pay for 50 percent of the purchase price for two parcels on the Colorado River. Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management will maintain all of the new river access points, so the county won't have to.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, the Saltonstall parcel, which provides walking access to a highly used trail system on BLM land, has five funding partners. So, Eagle County is only paying 40 percent of the purchase price, and Pitkin County will maintain the property.
Also, the new Homestead L parcel, with three miles of new trail, prompted the donation of conservation easements by two private homeowners' associations.
I personally think the program is a good deal:
• It is providing more recreational access for residents and visitors.
• It has great ability to leverage other funds and resources.
• It creates opportunities for economic development.
• It has a low administrative overhead (1.6 staff people).
However, it doesn't really matter what I think. The greatest role a public official can play is representing the will of the people.
So, the question at hand is if elected, would I support the open space tax being placed back on the ballot for consideration of repeal.
As with any issue, if residents in general don't think the public benefit is worth the tax, I would seriously consider not spending the money. However, in talking extensively with residents, I have not found evidence of this concerning the open space program.
Also, one has to take into account the result of the vote in 2002 and be careful not to set the precedent of facilitating a re-vote every time a particular group doesn't like an outcome. For these reasons, I do not favor placing the issue on the ballot at this time.