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Open space group prepares campaign

by Christy Chalmers

With $18,000 in pledges and a goal of adding a quarter cent to Douglas County’s 6.75 percent sales tax, an open space preservation group is preparing for a successful campaign.

The group, which includes ranchers, business people and residents, met Monday to begin plotting a campaign strategy. Hiring a media consultant is a priority. Thursday, the group will probably start the paperwork to create a political action committee.

“Losing this ballot campaign is not an option, in my mind,” said coalition member Jacques Etchegoyhen, who is also a county commissioner and the American Land Conservancy’s Nevada director.

The coalition hopes to convince voters to OK the sales tax hike, which would generate an estimated $1 million a year. Over 30 years, the money could equal a third of the $90 million the group thinks would be needed to buy development rights and compensate Carson Valley landowners for keeping their property open.

Ame Hellman, special projects director for The Nature Conservancy’s Nevada chapter, said the Sonoran Institute has offered $8,000 to $10,000 and an unnamed Nature Conservancy member donated $10,000 to seed the campaign.

The nine coalition members present Monday agreed a professional campaign is crucial but stopped short of hiring BatesNeimand Inc., a media consultant with offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago that was recommended by The Nature Conservancy.

BatesNeimand provided several examples of successful, conservation-oriented campaigns it has run, but the coalition members said they want to balance that outside expertise with help from local vendors and firms.

“If I were an astute voter, I’d be asking how you spent your campaign money,” said Valida McMichael, a member of the county planning commission. “It’s kind of like when you give money to a charity, and a dime of each dollar gets to the starving child.”

Coalition leader Steve Lewis said he’ll contact the firm and ask how those concerns will be handled.

Workshops held throughout the winter and spring indicated residents would be willing to pay to protect undeveloped land, and a poll conducted in April indicated a 59 percent approval rate for a quarter-cent tax hike, but coalition members are anticipating some opposition.

The sales tax proposal is to go to voters in November.