Ballot question for open space? |

Ballot question for open space?

by Christy Chalmers

A semi-private coalition is considering a ballot question to raise money for protecting Douglas County’s open space.

Dave Bolick, chairman of the agriculture and open space committee, said Friday that the group discussed the potential question during a meeting earlier in the week, but emphasized the proposal is tentative.

“We’re working on what we might want to put on the ballot, but I don’t want to discuss it in detail until it’s finalized,” he said.

The open space and agriculture committee is to meet again Nov. 8. The group is a coalition of individuals and groups that is exploring ways to preserve Douglas County’s open space, but is not bound by state open meeting laws because it wasn’t created by the government.

Possible options for preserving the county’s open lands include a tax increase that would be used to fund a conservation easement program, in which owners of open land would be paid for permanently blocking development on their property.

While no decision on when a ballot question would be presented has been made, two options exist. The open space and agriculture group could pursue an initiative and present a ballot question if enough signatures from registered voters are collected. That process was used for the quarter-cent sales tax hike that was approved in 1998 to pay for parks, libraries and senior services.

County leaders could also decide to put a question on the ballot, though the commissioners have said they want any fundraising effort driven by the residents, not the government.

Still, Douglas County is not ignoring the open space issue. The county planning commission recently held a meeting to gauge the opinions of ranchers and others who own the open spaces to see if they are interested in a conservation easement program.

The comments were mixed, with some opposed to any kind of tax increase. Many cited the economic pressures of the agricultural industry, noting that conservation easements may not be enough to address the problems they are encountering.

Bolick said the comments were not surprising.

“We’ve had that all along. That type of thing came up at our workshops,” he said. “We just need to work with them.”