Vail Valley Voices: How Eagle County’s open space program works
Vail, CO, Colorado
Eagle County’s open space program is currently the subject of much debate and in recent weeks, public discussion and letters to the editor regarding the Open Space Fund have included several inaccuracies.
The following information is intended to provide accurate financial data so that confusion and misinformation are minimized.
The Open Space Fund was created by Eagle County voters in 2002 to acquire and protect important wildlife habitat, scenic views, and provide outdoor recreational opportunities. The fund was created by a vote of Eagle County citizens, who approved an increase of 1.5 mills to the county property tax rate. The approximate cost to each taxpayer is $13 per year for every $100,000 of home value.
The county started to receive open space tax revenues in 2004. Since that time, the program has protected more than 7,000 acres. These properties primarily include working ranches that have been permanently protected with conservation easements.
More recently, the program has focused on properties that will provide public recreational access for boaters, anglers, hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, equestrians and others. These include three boat launch and fishing access sites on the Colorado River, three properties on the Eagle River, and the 160-acre Homestead L Open Space in Edwards.
In addition, numerous other projects are in the works throughout the county, all of which contain significant public access components and protect meaningful habitat.
The Open Space Fund balance is currently $17.4 million. This high fund balance is the result of several years of accumulated revenues, not an increase in the mill levy.
In 2012, that number will drop significantly when several anticipated acquisitions are closed and the Open Space Fund reimburses the General Fund $3.25 million for the Homestead L purchase made last summer.
The Open Space Fund receives approximately $4 million annually in property tax revenue. Going forward, the anticipated revenue stream is expected to drop, along with all property tax collections, due to the decline of real estate values.
The open space tax represents approximately 5.4 percent of the total county budget. The money can only be spent on open space purchases.
All purchases are approved by the Board of County Commissioners after recommendations from a citizen advisory committee. Many of the purchases are acquired with partners such as towns, other counties, the Eagle Valley Land Trust and others. In this way, open space funds go further.
The Board of County Commissioners and I are always willing to listen to suggestions. Final decision meetings are public and well-advertised. You may contact me at 970-328-8698.
Toby Sprunk is Eagle County’s open space director.