Open space tax passes by 51 votes |

Open space tax passes by 51 votes

Cliff Thompson

Three hundred and eighty-eight provisional ballots swung the vote count Thursday from a two-vote deficit – 5,454 to 5,456 – to a 51 vote approval of 5,658 to 5,607. That margin is greater by 23 votes than the one-half of 1 percent needed for a mandatory recount, said Eagle County and Recorder Clerk Sara Fisher.

The outcome, nine days after the mid-term elections because of the verifying process needed for the provisional ballots, has proponents pretty happy.

“It’s a lot better than the two votes down at the end of the regular voting,” said Andy Wiessner of Eagle County Citizens for Open Space. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for the county and the (Eagle Valley) Land Trust and GOCO and the federal government to work together to try and buy these Brotman parcels (former school sections near Edwards) and beautiful meadows along I-70 before they disappear forever.”

Wiessner called the victory “most gratifying.”

“I must have knocked on half the doors in Eagle County,” he said. “The people of Eagle County, like those in neighboring counties, have decided that a dedicated funding source is the only way to make headway on open-space preservation.”

Summit, Pitkin and Routt Counties already had tax-supported open space. One of the organizations that will benefit from the funds generated for open space acquisition is the Eagle Valley Land Trust, an organization aiming to protect key pieces of land with either outright purchases or conservation easements. Money raised will be used to match fund from the lottery-funded Greater Outdoors Colorado Program, or GOCO, that offers funding for open space and park acquisition.

For Vail’s Tom Steinberg, the new tax has taken eight years to achieve.

“I can breathe again,” he said. “I’m overjoyed. Steinberg said the Vail real estate transfer tax, or RETT, which is used for open-space acquisition, has helped keep Vail from being developed “wall to wall.”

“The RETT has made Vail much more saleable,” he said.

The open space measure took nearly two years to reach the ballot. At the suggestion of the county commissioners, volunteers attempted to create a special district that overlapped the county’s boundaries.

But that strategy failed because it required approval of each metropolitan district with an existing recreation authority. Several of those had tax increases of their own and didn’t want the tax to compete with their tax increase proposals.

So the group reapproached the commissioners, who finally agreed last summer to put the measure before the voters.

The new tax will take effect Jan. 1. Revenue for open-space acquisition will not be available until property taxes are paid.

A nine-person committee, and representatives of incorporated and unincorporated areas will advise the county commissioners on open-space acquisitions.

The money from the tax will not be available until 2004, said County Administrator Jack Ingstad, because property tax bills for 2003 will not be paid until next year.

Steinberg, however, said the issue is slightly bitter sweet.

“I probably won’t be here to see it,” said Steinberg, 78. “I think long-term the people in Eagle County will think it’s a good thing.”

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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