Douglas County wants open space plan before ballot question |

Douglas County wants open space plan before ballot question

Christy Chalmers

At least three meetings and a healthy dose of skepticism are standing between Douglas County voters and a ballot question on preserving open space with a quarter-cent sales tax hike.

The county commission met Monday to review the proposed question, explanation and arguments for and against raising the county’s sales tax to 7 percent. The increase would generate an estimated $1 million a year that could be used to keep land undeveloped.

The language, which must be submitted by July 17, is not ready for approval. District Attorney Scott Doyle said he will meet with proponents and opponents of the ballot question and incorporate their comments into the arguments that have been drafted.

Meanwhile, county planners will continue working on an open space management plan that must be adopted if a ballot question is pursued. County Manager Dan Holler said a draft of the plan could be ready by today, but revisions are inevitable as it is reviewed by residents and county planners.

Some officials worried that the changes will alienate voters and hurt the ballot question’s chances.

Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed said voters will want copies of the plan, and if multiple drafts are circulating, “the perception from the public is that you’re trying to sneak something in.”

“We’re going to get yelled at a lot if we have different versions out,” she added.

Commissioner Kelly Kite said he wants a specific plan that’s been thoroughly reviewed.

“I think we’re rushing headlong into the biggest disservice we can do to the voters of Douglas County,” he said. “We’re talking about nailing ourselves to a document and we don’t even know what the document is. We’re going at this all wrong.”

“We’re trying to cram what’s going to happen to Carson Valley into a real small time frame without a long-range plan of what we’re trying to do,” agreed rancher Nate Leising, who is opposed to the proposed sales tax hike.

Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen countered that the management plan will be a “stand alone” document that can be used even if voters reject the sales tax hike.

“It’s going to be very valuable to have this, because there’s going to be a number of mechanisms to get there,” he said. “It’s not rhetoric. It’s implementation.”

The county commissioners scheduled meetings July 6, 11 and 13 to review the language as well as the open space management plan.

“We need as much public input as possible,” said Etchegoyhen.

The open space management plan is expected to answer questions about the costs, procedures and criteria for preserving undeveloped land. One estimate, made by a semi-private coalition of ranchers, business people and residents, says a quarter-cent sales tax hike could generate $1 million a year to pay for it.

The coalition sponsored a poll earlier in the year that found 59 percent of the 400 people asked would support a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for preserving open space. The survey followed several months of public and private workshops that were held to gauge interest in a formal program to preserve undeveloped land.