Ballot Measure 1B: Summit County seeks renewal of open space and trails property tax
FRISCO — Summit County voters in November will decide whether they’d like to renew a property tax to finance the county’s fund for the acquisition and preservation of open space, natural areas and trails. The measure also would continue to fund trail construction and maintenance, workforce housing, wildfire mitigation and other public programs and services.
Ballot Measure 1B is up to voters for the first time since 2008, when it passed with nearly 60% of the vote. If approved, the measure would extend the current 3.062 mills property tax rate and allocate the funds annually to the Summit County Open Space Fund beginning Jan. 1, 2022, without limitation or condition.
A 3.062 mill levy rate costs taxpayers $21.89 per $100,000 of residential assessed property value and $88.80 per $100,000 of commercial value, according to Summit County Finance Director Marty Ferris.
Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said the measure will go to voters this fall, two years before the existing measure is scheduled to sunset, because it aids the county’s advanced financial planning and budgeting.
Summit County voters first approved open space funding in 1993. Since then, the county has used the funds to protect more than 17,300 acres of open space through land acquisitions, conservation easements, access easements and partnerships with other agencies. Since 1995, the county has completed more than 300 property acquisitions and worked with more than 200 landowners to preserve the properties “as a legacy for future generations.”
“It’s truly amazing what this community has accomplished through the Summit County Open Space and Trails Program,” Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said in a statement. “From wildlife habitat to recreational resources to uninterrupted stretches of backcountry, the program ensures that our natural resources will be preserved and protected for our children and grandchildren.”
Davidson said the county believes the tax is still needed to fund critical projects and to maintain paved pathway systems and improvements to public facilities. Together with its partners, the county manages more than 100 trailheads and local trail portals. The county also has about 85 miles of natural-surface trails within its jurisdiction, many of which connect to trail networks in towns and on U.S. Forest Service land. The county constructed and maintains more than 38 miles of recreation paths as part of the county’s 55-mile paved pathway system.
The open space program over its life has leveraged its funds at a 3:1 ratio with contributions from Great Outdoors Colorado, partnerships with towns and donations from private landowners. In other words, every $1 of open space funding has protected $3 worth of land.
Each year, in partnership with its resident-appointed Open Space Advisory Council, the county’s Open Space and Trails Department identifies important available properties and recommends the Summit Board of County Commissioners secure them.
In 2016, the county jumped at the chance to ensure the 272-acre Doig Homestead off Heeney Road north of Silverthorne remained undeveloped in perpetuity. At the time, the $2 million acquisition was the largest in the basin on the north end of the county in nearly a decade.
The mill levy also funds wildfire mitigation programs, such as the Summit County Chipping Program, the Community Wildfire Protection Plan Grant Program and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program, which financially assists neighborhoods, homeowner associations and subdivisions that work with a local wildfire mitigation expert to develop fuel-reduction plans.
The county has distributed more than $1.8 million for wildfire risk projects, which county officials said has helped more than 11,000 households protect their homes from wildfires.
The ballot measure also supports workforce housing, and county officials said funds from the existing mill levy have supported construction projects and land acquisitions such as the West Hills, Huron Landing and Lake Hill neighborhoods.
Authorizing an extension, with no increase in tax rates, of the existing mill levy for open space, natural areas and trails, and other public purposes previously approved by summit county voters
Without raising any additional taxes, shall Summit County be authorized to retain and expend revenues for the acquisition and preservation of open space, natural areas, and trails, as well as such other public purposes approved by the voters in 2008 by Summit County referred measure 1(A), by the ongoing extension of the existing three and sixty two one-thousandths mill levy property tax commencing January 1, 2022, and continuing thereafter as a voter-approved revenue change, as such revenues are annually budgeted by the Board of County Commissioners without limitation or condition under Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution or any other law?
Taylor Sienkiewicz contributed to the reporting of this article.
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