Open space ballot question looks likely

MINDEN - A ballot question on paying to preserve Douglas County's open space is starting to look more likely.

A coalition of open space proponents is ready to ask for an open space management plan, as well as guidance on administering a preservation plan and preparing a ballot question. The group, whose members include planners, county leaders, ranchers and business representatives, will also be working with a pollster on questions for a survey that would further define Douglas County residents' opinions on open space.

Coalition members were heartened by the results of an informal survey taken during a series of workshops on open space and the options for preserving it. The workshops were held in December and January, and a majority of survey respondents said they considered undeveloped land an important asset worth paying to protect.

One option would be a tax, and voters could be asked for an opinion in either of the elections scheduled for the fall months.

"It's looking more real all the time," said Jacques Etchegoyhen, a county commissioner and ranch manager, referring to the overall goal of protecting open space.

Coalition members said they think a ballot question is feasible. An open space plan would be needed, and county planning chief Mimi Moss indicated one could be done by June.

Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Dave Bolick said he'll pursue a $2,000 grant from the Sonoran Institute that could help pay for preparation of the open space plan.

Ame Hellman, chairwoman of the Douglas County planning commission and also special projects director for The Nature Conservancy's Nevada chapter, said she's been in contact with a pollster who would refine the earlier survey data. The pollster has conducted similar surveys for other communities, but still needs final funding approval. Hellman said The Nature Conservancy is willing to contribute $8,000 for the survey if Douglas County will pay the remaining $3,000 -$4,000 cost.

Douglas County commissioners are to be formally presented with the open space survey results in March, along with a request for further direction. Money could be sought then.

Others buzzed about outlining a "business plan" that would explain how open space preservation would work, estimated costs and other funding options. Elements of plans used by other areas in the West could be incorporated.

"If we use their track records, we can show people this isn't a pipe dream," said Dan Kaffer, a coordinator with Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development, Inc.

The group has outlined a tentative schedule for pursuing a November ballot question.

One of the next steps will be to seek advice on forming an entity to manage an open space preservation program, followed by framing of a ballot question. Bolick, who chairs the coalition, said he'll contact District Attorney Scott Doyle for help on both matters.

Douglas County commissioners may be asked to put the question on the ballot. If one is pursued, residents could expect a campaign promoting the question to start in June.


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