Open-space tax heads for November ballot
A final decision on whether to include the item on the ballot, however, is pending until after county Attorney Tom Moorhead writes the item.
The Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space had requested commissioners consider including on the November election ballot a countywide, 1.5-mil tax levy to fund open space in Eagle County. The commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday that voters should have the final say on the issue.
“I would like to see this initiative on the ballot,” said county Commissioner Arn Menconi. “That’s what I’ve been hearing from the constituents.”
Commissioners Michael Gallagher and Tom Stone, however, said that while they were in favor of letting voters decide, they weren’t endorsing the initiative themselves.
“I have no problem that voters choose. But I will not endorse the issue,” Stone said. “I’m concerned for a lot of people who are on a fixed income and can’t afford to get their taxes raised.”
“We’re not looking for endorsement from the commissioners,” replied Diana Cecala of the Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space. “All we wanted was a referral to the ballot.”
If the proposal makes the ballot and is approved by voters, it could raise $2.9 million dollars per year, said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad. The funds would be administered by Eagle County officials.
Gallagher said he had some reservations about the proposed tax.
“I would like to see a way that the money raised in the Eagle Valley is spent there and the money raised in the Roaring Fork Valley is spent in projects there,” Gallagher said.
Cecala, meanwhile, said her organization is working together with the Eagle Valley Land Trust to identify parcels for preservation.
“This fund will help us achieve balanced growth in the county and help preserve the most important priorities identified in our survey – water, wildlife and our western heritage,” she said.
Another organization with a history of preserving open spaces, the Eagle County Land Trust, relies on private funds to acquire land and spare it from development. The trust’s executive director, Cindy Cohagen, said her public funding would be an addition to the trust’s resources
Cecala said that although Eagle County voters denied a similar open-space initiative in 1994 – by a margin of 2-1 – the initiative now has public support. A public survey conducted by the Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space, she said, indicates 66 percent of those polled support the 1.5 mil tax to fund the purchase of open lands in the county.
If the initiative doesn’t pass, Cecala said, the land will not be available to purchase because it’s hard to compete with developers.
Summit, Pitkin and Routt Counties already have tax-funded open-space programs.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.