Commissioners Corner: Just what do residents get for the quarter-cent open space sales tax
In the past two months, I have been asked many times about question No. 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot. This is the proposition to impose an additional quarter-cent sales tax to purchase open space easements in Douglas County. There are a few public misconceptions about this proposal and I will try to clarify them.
One question I am asked is about public access to the conservation easements that are purchased from working farms and ranches. People seem to have a general impression that if a conservation easement is purchased by the taxpayers from an agriculturist, then the public surely must have the ability to walk on the land, to recreate on it and gain access to public lands adjacent to the conservation easement property. The response to this is NO. The land is still owned by the agriculturist and is NOT open to public access. What the county, through its quarter cent sales tax increase, will have purchased is essentially a “view” easement for the public.
Also purchased by the county from willing sellers will be the right of future development of the agricultural land. The property right allowed for building homes or commercial businesses will be “stripped” from the lands where the conservation easements are purchased.
Where do these “development rights” go after being purchased by the county? They are then “retired” or eliminated so there is a small growth control aspect to the issue. Ranches and farms generally have the right to have the property split into parcels that are zoned for one house on every 20 acres. Of course, there are many methods of parceling, but, in general, the zoning allows one home per 20 acres. Current law allows many methods, including clustering homes on much smaller lots, leaving large areas dedicated as open space.
Finally, the most asked question about purchase of conservation easements is about how the county will guarantee that the property, now stripped of development rights, will be made to stay green and lush agricultural property. The answer to this question is that the county cannot make the guarantee that it will stay green. This guarantee cannot be made by anyone but the agriculturist.
My experience with ranchers and farmers is that they will continue to be the strong environmentalists they have always been. They will work the land because that is what they do. There is pride and honor in that tradition. When they get too old to work the land, they will pass it on to their heirs, or it will be sold to someone who will continue in that same tradition. The agricultural land in this Valley has strong value even if the development rights have been “stripped” from it.
If you have other questions concerning this or other issues in this upcoming election, please feel free to give any of the county commissioners a call. We will try to get back to you quickly to talk about the issues.
I encourage each and every one of you to vote. Take advantage of early voting.The future of our county, our state and our country is in your hands.
(Bernie Curitis represents county commission District 3.)