Forum changes some minds on Douglas open space tax |

Forum changes some minds on Douglas open space tax

by Christy Chalmers, staff writer

Ken Douglas wasn’t planning to vote for a quarter-cent sales tax increase that could help preserve Douglas County’s open space.

But after asking several questions and listening to 90 minutes of testimony in support of the proposal Monday night, he approached the microphone one last time.

“I’m still not convinced this $1.2 million couldn’t come out of the general fund,” said Douglas, who moved to Carson Valley from the San Francisco area nine months ago. “But I will grudgingly support it. There just really isn’t time.”

His announcement drew hearty applause from the 50 others who attended a forum sponsored by the group that is promoting question No. 1 on the November ballot.

Voters will be asked to raise Douglas County’s sales tax a quarter-cent to 7 percent. Promoters say the increase could generate $1.2 million a year that could be used to preserve undeveloped land, possibly by paying landowners to forfeit their development rights or use them elsewhere.

Proponents cite the benefits of keeping houses out of the Carson River flood plain, which covers an estimated 30,000 acres, and the esthetic value of Carson Valley’s ranch land.

The cost to a family that spends $1,600 a month on taxable purchases is estimated to be less than $4. If the tax hike is approved, it would expire after 30 years.

The Douglas County Agriculture and Open Space Preservation Committee sponsored Monday night’s meeting, which was also taped for broadcast on Channel 26. Six committee members, sipping bottled water plastered with stickers reading “Save Douglas County agriculture and open space,” took turns answering questions from audience members.

Douglas asked why the estimated $1.2 million couldn’t simply be appropriated from the existing general fund. Another resident, Cherry Jones, wanted to know how many land owners might sell their development rights if the tax is passed.

“I think this plan sounds wonderful, but a little idealistic,” she said. “I want to be sure that if we vote yes on this, we’re guaranteed.”

The committee has signed endorsements for the tax hike from 13 property owners. They also had no shortage of testimony from other audience members like Gardnerville resident Dave Bauer, who said he didn’t get involved when his former home town, San Diego, faced a similar situation.

“It (went) from a place I really liked to a place that in my mind is unlivable,” he said. Voting for the proposed tax hike “Is better than watching and doing what I did last time.”

The panel members said action needs to be taken soon, before more ranch land turns into subdivisions.

“By 2010 a double-barreled shotgun is going to be pointed at the north county, and it’s called the Carson bypass,” said Mike Hayes, who also serves on the county planning commission. “They’re going to like what they see, and they’re going to want to buy a house.”

Douglas County has adopted an open space management plan that outlines criteria for deciding which land should be targeted for preservation, as well as strategies. One of those strategies is the purchase of conservation easements, in which land owners are paid to keep their land empty.