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Guest Opinion: Open space sales tax is the answer to urban sprawl

by Terri K. Clark

I am writing because I am also troubled. I am referencing the letter to the editor in the Sept. 13 edition of The Record-Courier entitled “I am troubled.”

My hat is off to Barry J. Latham from San Jose who took the time to relate to us the transformation of the San Jose area over the past 39 years. Mr. Latham relates when his family moved to San Jose in 1961, it was a “predominantly agricultural valley with orchards everywhere.” His description of the San Jose area now is, “The whole valley is one huge urban sprawl with seven freeways jammed with cars at all hours of day and night.”

My experience with urban sprawl is much closer to home. If we don’t act now we will have urban sprawl from north Reno to Topaz Lake. In 1967, I moved to Carson City to attend UNR. I was enchanted with the wide open spaces of Nevada and the abundance of public land. After graduating in 1970, I began teaching science in Carson City. I continued teaching in Carson City for 29 years until my recent retirement. Over that time, Carson High changed from less than 1,000 students to over 2,400 today. The population of Carson City is over 50,000. Carson High School endured double sessions, overcrowding and temporary classrooms. When I retired, Carson High was so large that the “big gym” was unable to hold all the students for an assembly unless significant numbers sat on the floor. All the while, the developers were espousing the virtues of “economic diversification!” Meanwhile, the sewer plant was overloaded, water rationing was instituted, the hospital was overburdened and the traffic became terrible. To put it bluntly, quality of life in Carson City has declined!

The residents of Douglas County have an opportunity to help preserve quality of life and the rural agricultural nature of our beautiful county. Question #1 for the election this November is an attempt to increase the sales tax in Douglas County by one-quarter of one cent to preserve open space. For those of you who say, “I don’t vote for any new taxes,” please ask yourself this question, “Why do I choose to live in Douglas County?” Most of you will answer that your decision is based on quality of life issues (beautiful scenery, slower pace of living, easy access to recreation, personal and family safety, etc.). The quality of life we all enjoy in Douglas County is a precious commodity. Without protection, we could become another mass of urban sprawl. We have the opportunity to preserve this open space in Douglas County for generations to come by voting yes on question #1 in November. Here are a few facts you should ponder if you have doubts about the usage of the proposed sales tax:

– Question #1 provides for purchase of development rights from willing sellers. This revenue by law cannot be used for any other purpose. This will permanently protect the land in its current state for future generations. This means no one can build a subdivision or commercial development on the land. It simply enables ranchers and farmers to actualize the development value of their land without having to sell the land to developers. All development rights purchased will be retired, meaning they cannot be banked for use in the future.

– Private landowners continue to own, ranch the land and pay taxes on the property. Water rights remain with the ranch.

– The one-quarter of one percent sales tax is estimated to generate $1.2 million annually. Approximately 40 percent of the sales tax in Douglas County is paid by tourists. We, the residents, of Douglas County will reap the benefits of open space and a great quality of life and will only contribute 60 percent of the sales tax since the remaining 40 percent is paid by visitors.

– If you purchased $100 of taxable items in Douglas County, the amount of the proposed tax would total 25 cents.

– The PDR (purchase of development rights) program may be used to preserve any sensitive natural area with open space values throughout the county including Lake Tahoe or Carson Valley.

– The value of development rights range from 30 percent to 80 percent of the fair market value of the land. Values will be determined by independent appraisal.

– Growth does not pay for itself. For every $1 in taxes which is paid by residential developments, it takes $1.37 in tax money to provide services like schools, water, sewer and police protection. For every $1 in taxes which are paid on farm and ranch lands, it only takes approximately 37 cents to provide the needed services.

I invite all residents of Douglas County to attend the town meeting that will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 25 in the CVIC Hall in Minden. A panel will present information on Open Space Question #1, followed by questions from the audience. This is the perfect opportunity to ask any questions. If you don’t believe the immediate importance of the open space issue, just take a look at the front page of the Nevada Appeal from Friday, Sept. 15. I reference the article entitled “Carson Needs High-Paying Jobs,” with this quote: “City Hall, together with business leaders and schools, want to determine how best to develop the dwindling undeveloped land in the city.” It is evident that developers will not rest until they have developed every square inch of Carson City. I hope Douglas County does not someday have the same situation. If you feel strongly in favor of open space in Douglas County, please call the office of the Douglas County Agriculture and Open Space Preservation Committee at 782-2361 to help. Most importantly, remember a “yes” vote for Question #1 Open Space is a vote to preserve our rural community and quality of life in Douglas County.

(Terri K. Clark is a Douglas County resident and volunteer chairman of the phone campaign for the Douglas County Agriculture and Open Space Preservation Committee.)