How do we preserve things we love?
There seems to be little argument about the need to preserve agriculture and open space in Douglas County. The answer is a resounding”yes” not only here but in numerous towns across the U.S. Urbanization is expanding and agricultural lands are receding, like my hair line (in some places it’s gone for good). This translates to a loss of the lifestyle and aesthetics we want to remember -let’s call it “rural character.” So the issue is not “if,” but “how.” How does a community such as ours preserve what matters most? A 1/4-cent sales tax has been proposed as one way to accomplish the task at hand. The following may shed some light on the impending decision.
– First, is a tax necessary to preserve agriculture and open space? Certainly there are other means of providing for this program. Donations, privately funded trusts and foundations can be attracted to support the cause and must be encouraged to do so. Other options become available, however, when communities demonstrate commitment to a preservation program. Granting sources view a united community as an extremely important criteria when reviewing applications. Most grantors will not look further without this critical component. A self-imposed tax indicates commitment and community buy-in. Taxing alone is not the sole answer but rather a part of the solution and it can be used to attract additional funding.
Does the public support a sales tax? In a poll of 400 Douglas County voters conducted March 30-April 2 by the Kitchens Group, 59 percent supported a 1/4-cent increase in sales tax. Support increased to 65 percent when told this tax would cost the average family $4 per month. When informed of the program specifics, to protect ranch and farm lands, open space and natural areas, the support increased to 75 percent. This figure is very similar to the 74 percent that indicated a willingness to “financially contribute to the cause of preserving ag lands and open space” in the planning commission workshops recently held throughout the county. Of this 74 percent, the vast majority favored sales tax over property and real estate transfer tax. Based on the consistent results of these two surveys, it appears that the public does support a sales tax.
Should the county commit a 1/4-cent sales tax to open space and agriculture preservation and not reserve this option to fund something else? That’s a tough question since the future holds so many unknowns. To examine this question, that probably has no definitive answer, one must compare it with our community’s vision. This vision describes our desired destination. It is expressed in our media, master plan, idle conversations and hearts. A conclusion can only be reached in each individual as they assess this issue’s alignment with our vision.
So, now you ask, “Where’s the beef?” Is a sales tax the best option to support open space? The answer is it is a viable option, one of many necessary to enact a proactive program. In addition, the preservation of agriculture land and open space will require other sources of funds, much time, public involvement and patience. Is it the best? That can only be determined over time and as measured against other implementation strategies. As the last piece of pasture is paved, we don’t want to still be haggling over how we can preserve agriculture. The point is, we must get started. We must be relentless and persistent in the pursuit of our vision to preserve the rural characteristics that we so closely associate to our quality of life.
– Steven R. Lewis is extension educator at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.