Citizens committee sought for ballot
A citizen committee may have to draft arguments on three potential ballot questions about saving open space before Douglas County leaders decide which one to present to voters.
The county commissioners were expected to choose one of the possible questions Thursday. After debating for almost two hours, they settled on approving recruitment of a six-member committee to draft pro and con arguments, possibly for all of the questions, because they couldn’t agree on one.
“I don’t see a downside to looking at all three,” said Commissioner Bernie Curtis. “We hurt nothing by doing that.”
Voters could be asked in November to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase, a one-tenth percent real estate transfer tax or a 1-cent property tax hike to pay for preserving ranch land and open space.
A coalition of ranchers, business people and residents is recommending the sales tax question. So did many of the two dozen people who watched Thursday’s debate.
“Do whatever you can to get it on the ballot. We’ll do whatever we can to get it passed,” said Virginia Henningsen, who hopes to preserve a family ranch in Gardnerville through the proposed programs.
“It will be successful if we move forward,” said Ame Hellman, chairwoman of the planning commission and a member of the open space coalition. “Respect us. Respect your constituents.”
The commissioners acknowledged the support for the sales tax, but some said they want more details about how much money each option would raise and how it would be spent. They were also skeptical about the true amount of community support for an open space preservation tax.
“This effort so far is a special interest effort,” said Commissioner Steve Weissinger. “Until I see my phone ringing off the hook, and it hasn’t been, I’ll have a difficult time supporting the quarter-cent sales tax.”
Commissioner Don Miner repeated his contention that open space could be preserved through zoning laws that limit development in flood plains.
“It just takes cooperation from large landowners, and courage from this board,” he said.
Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen lobbied for the sales tax proposal. He initially opposed the idea of researching all three possible ballot questions, commenting, “We’re complicating the obvious, and that’s not necessary.”
Etchegoyhen later relented and switched his vote, creating unanimous support for drafting pro and con arguments for each question, but made it clear he thinks the quarter-cent sales tax will eventually make the ballot.
“The decision probably won’t change much,” he said.
The citizen committee will be appointed in May. The commissioners could still decide to give the group only one question to debate.
More discussion on open space is expected in May, when an open space protection plan is debated. The ballot question must be completed by mid-July to make the general election ballot.