Honorable ideas corrupt honorably
Quick question: What passed in 2002, was collected in 2003, spent in 2004, bankrupt in 2005, and potentially loaded with debt in 2006?No putting the newspaper down and running to your computer, and no fair asking your spouse, roommate, or parental unit for hints. No cheating allowed, period, as this is not a test worthy of fraud.Quick answer: Eagle County open space funds.However, this is only if we continue allowing them to have their way with us. OK, perhaps bankrupt is too strong of a word, but the fact remains that as soon as these folks (Open Space People Using Other People’s Money, or POMPOUS, if arranged correctly) reached their self-righteous tentacles into Eagle County taxpayers’ back pockets by 51 votes back in 2002, they began scheming for our front sides as well.They have made one successful agreement buying development rights – Bair Ranch – which made a rich guy richer while allowing another rich guy to keep his profitable business but still prevented the rest of us from enjoying the exact land we paid for except for the occasional view around certain windy curves along I-70.Their second attempt at protecting open space using our money – purchasing Eaton Ranch – makes the Bair controversy seem like a light overnight dusting compared to a 3-foot, 12-hour springtime dump, at least financially.This one has all the makings of a conspiracy theorist monkey-spanking behind a closed bathroom door in a glass house. From the amazingly coincidental appraised value of the land, to the reasons why an organization whose mission statement says nary a word about open space appearing to be in charge, to particular individuals who do not want their personal views compromised (literally), to just who is actually behind the entire mess.Not to propagate any of these silly rumors any further, but hey, they are out there in Happy Valley and seem to be addressed daily just one thin layer beneath casual conversation.Maybe I hang out with the wrong crowd in the right bar.Anyway, a basic rule of government that is always talked about but rarely followed states: Do not spend money you do not have.All forms of government at least pretend to follow this rule except theocracies, which believe their decisions (whether they be rational, reasonable, or fiscally responsible) are led by divine guidance. And we all agree how ridiculous that is, right?Right.But with so much controversy over the first two official decisions since the passing of the tax, how could any recipient of an annual tax bill even consider the thought of handing the company limo keys to the patients at the asylum under the promise that they’ll be home by midnight?Only the corruptible fund noble ideas with other people’s money. This does not, however, imply that those involved are corruptible per se, but merely that history dictates virtually every time a financial inch is provided using tax dollars, a fiscal mile of debt is sure to follow.They want to sell bonds. Bonds are debt. Debt must be repaid. Empty land owned by the public does not generate taxes. The current open space tax generates about $3 million per year. At the rate the money is already being spent (when added with the $2.2 million from a general fund that is supposed to be used for paying mundane bills like salaries and such), the open space debt could easily be a decade in the hole within one or two years. A simplified circular argument, of course, but the fact remains that IF we did vote to bond open space, and the POMPOUS group performed miraculous land saves with two or three large purchases, what would happen when the debt ceiling was reached and there was still more land to buy?You guessed it. Chances are they would begin searching for methods to increase the open space tax.Like careening down Riva’s Ridge on the last day of the season and coming to a regretful but fruitful end at Gold Peak, tax spending is finite (unless you’re a socialist, of course). There must be a maximum amount of “good” that can be done with limited resources. The tax passed. Fine. Let’s be responsible with what we have, and move on to the next issue.The saddest part, at least personally, are those of you who have read this far yet understood nothing other than the preconceived notion that I “must be against Eaton Ranch just like those other blind fools.” This could not be further from the truth than if you had said I was a Tom DeLay fan.I do not care about Eaton Ranch, or any local attempt at “saving” land, nearly as much as I care about fiscal responsibility concerning tax dollars.The bottom line is based on balance, not a one-sided argument over what a vocal minority are attempting to mandate as right.Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado
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