Time to consider open space again
October 16, 2012
Twelve years ago this November, Douglas County voters considered a ballot question to increase the Douglas County sales tax by one-quarter of one percent (.0025). The revenue from the ballot question would have been used for the permanent protection of open space in Douglas County. Up until the day of the general election, the ballot question appeared to have strong support. Surprisingly, however, the ballot question failed by a small margin.
A review of Douglas County’s taxable sales from Fiscal Year 2001 through Fiscal Year 2012 indicates that over the course of these last 12 years, the ballot question would have generated in excess of $19.6 million. Visitors would have contributed a substantial portion of that amount, and the impact on Douglas County residents would have been minimal. Moreover, the nearly $20 million in revenue could have been matched with state and federal funds, and used to protect nearly $40 million worth of prime agricultural land in Douglas County. The ballot question would have put us in the driver’s seat of our community and allowed us to achieve many of the goals and objectives set forth in the Douglas County Open Space and Master Plans.
Even though the ballot initiative failed, open space has remained a high priority of Douglas County residents. Open space has always been the cornerstone of our community. Our rural culture and raw natural beauty give Douglas County its unique sense of place. Our open space provides wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and a way of life. Douglas County’s agriculture is essential to the community and contributes greatly to the local economy. Our floodplains are critical for groundwater recharge and watershed health, and protect the community during flood events. All of these benefits result in a cost savings to Douglas County residents. Thus, by protecting our open space, we are enriching our culture, preserving our history, and improving our quality of life, all while saving money.
As election season looms, and we again consider the future of our community, I begin to wonder if the time isn’t ripe for us to reconsider an open space sales tax. It is a worthwhile investment in our community, our culture, and our quality of life.