Open space sales tax clears hurdle | RecordCourier.com
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Open space sales tax clears hurdle

Jobs Peak from Mottsville Lane.
Tim Berube

With 19-acre agricultural parcels selling for $700,000 apiece for a home, there’s a question as to whether that’s the best way to preserve Carson Valley’s farmland.

Last week, Douglas County planning commissioners recommended county commissioners implement a quarter-cent sales tax to purchase open space.

Proponent Jacques Etchgoyhen described the “ranchettes” as “too big to mow, too small to plow,” in his presentation to the board.

Planning Commissioner Mark Neddenriep, a member of a long-time Carson Valley family, pointed out that there are places in the Valley where people have built one house after another on 19-acre lots, with accompanying barns, guest houses, and other outbuildings.

“You can’t see the open ranch land behind them,” he said. “While it’s encouraging to the Assessor, it doesn’t really protect open space.”

Around 10,000 acres of open space has been preserved and another 16,000 acres is in the process of preservation.

However, one of the county’s tools in preserving open space, transferring development rights, has essentially been idle for the past 11 years. The program has protected 4,000 acres in the Valley.

Neddenriep said he felt the rights should be required for every single zone change in the county, not just receiving area.

He said he always advises ranchers who want to sell a 19-acre parcel to send it as far downstream as possible to prevent interruptions in irrigation.

“Many of the purchasers of 19-acre parcels have not been in Douglas County very long,” he said. “Having a 19-acre parcel upstream makes ranchers jobs a whole lot more difficult because they’re dealing with small owners who don’t have a lot of experience with ditch maintenance or weed abatement.”

Douglas County sought voter approval for the sales tax in 2000, not long after the Legislature approved allowing counties to participate.

“Back in 2000 the ag community narrowly voted not to support the tax increase,” said Neddenriep, who served as chairman of the committee at the time.

However, he said the Farm Bureau has come out unanimously supporting putting the tax on the ballot.

Planning commissioners expressed concerns about details associated with the tax, which Maureen Casey said would be ready in time for county commissioners to take up the request.

The planning commission is advisory to the Board of County Commissioners.

Planning Commissioner Brian Ohland said he was concerned there weren’t more details, saying he didn’t want the money frittered away on administration and salaries.

“I want the farmer to get paid everything,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Bryce Cutts said he wanted to make sure the money raised isn’t absorbed by the county.

“I have no interest in a tax that grows government and adds employees,” he said. “This sales tax increase is exclusively for the purpose placed before the voters.”

Casey said they are proposing a three-tiered system including an advisory board that would involve a list of priorities.

County commissioners could hear the request in May. The deadline to get something on the general election ballot is coming up.