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Open space goes before commissioners

by Christy Chalmers

Finding opposition to a tax for preserving Carson Valley’s open space is tough, even in a Republican bastion like Douglas County.

Two people offered to write ballot arguments opposing potential tax increases that could be sent to Douglas voters in November. Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed needed at least three, so she and District Attorney Scott Doyle will be doing the job themselves.

The twist is the latest in a year-long effort to protect Carson Valley’s undeveloped land. Workshops and meetings have confirmed residents’ interest in keeping the land open, and a private poll has concluded that 59 percent of the 400 people asked would pay an extra quarter-cent in sales tax to keep the land empty.

The county commissioners have agreed to the concept of sending a tax hike to voters, but they haven’t decided what to ask. They wanted to recruit a six-member committee – three pro, three con – to write arguments on the sales tax, a real estate transfer tax and a property tax.

Instead, they’re going into a meeting Thursday with a request to pick one so Reed and Doyle can start researching it.

A total of six people – four in favor, two against – responded to the county’s ads for a ballot committee. Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen said he thinks the response reflects the gravity of the job.

“I made a lot of phone calls, and I couldn’t find a lot of people to argue against it,” he said. “I think people realized that this is work, and it would be a serious time commitment.”

The sales tax hike appears to be a front-runner because of the poll and because a semi-private coalition of ranchers, business people and residents and the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce have endorsed it.

County Manager Dan Holler said he thinks a property tax hike is unrealistic, so the choice will come down to the sales and real estate options.

“From a staff standpoint, the sales tax is the easiest,” he said. “But what we’re saying is ‘tell us what you want, and we’ll go do it.'”

The commissioners have been divided over the options. Commissioners Steve Weissinger and Don Miner have said they don’t know enough about any of the options, or how open space preservation would work, to ask voters for anything. They had hoped the proposed ballot committee would provide those details.

Miner said the weak response to the ballot committee request shows those concerns.

“I think people hold back when they don’t have knowledge. I see that as a real drawback to the plan,” he said.

But he supports continuing work on the plan.

“I think the plan has to be further defined and broadly explained,” he said. “It needs to move forward, and we want to do that.”

What: Douglas County Commission discusses potential ballot questions on preserving open space

When: Thursday, 1:30 p.m.

Place: County administration building, 175 Highway 50, Stateline.

Info: 782-9020