Residents will be asked for open space input |

Residents will be asked for open space input

by Christy Chalmers

A committee of Douglas County residents will be appointed to argue for and against a ballot question on saving open space that hasn’t yet been asked.

Formation of the committee, a first step in presenting a ballot question, was approved Thursday. But before the county commission can recruit committee members, the board will have to decide what question the new group will answer. And the commissioners appear uncertain what to ask.

One option is whether voters would approve a quarter-cent sales tax hike whose proceeds could be used to buy development rights from ranchers, keeping their land open. A recent telephone poll indicates 59 percent of the 400 people asked would support a tax hike.

Commissioners Steve Weissinger and Don Miner said options that don’t involve tax hikes should get more attention. Miner called the quarter-cent tax hike idea “too narrow.”

“Why don’t we look at a broader perspective?” he asked. “I just don’t believe there’s been enough homework on the non-tax issue.”

“From my perspective, the quarter-cent sales tax is the easy way out,” said Weissinger, who doesn’t think enough information on how the program would work is available. “There are other options out there that need to be explored.”

Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, a vocal proponent of preserving open space, said the matter should be left to the “small army” he says is ready to campaign on behalf of the issue.

“All they’re asking from us is ‘let us take our case to the people,'” he said. “This is so complex and so important to the future of Douglas County, I think people are willing to spend whatever time it takes to do it properly.”

None of the seven people observing the discussion spoke about the issue, though Etchegoyhen said he’s gotten calls from people interested in serving on the committee.

Whatever question is put to the committee will be drafted by the district attorney and the county clerk’s office. The committee will be composed of three pro and three con members and will probably be created in May.

The ballot question will be presented on the November ballot and will have to be completed by mid-July.