Open space may go to vote

MINDEN - Douglas County voters may be asked to decide if a tax should be imposed to protect undeveloped Carson Valley land.

The question is already dividing ranchers, and county leaders indicated skepticism that a tax increase would be accepted. Even so, they acknowledged the results of a series of workshops on preserving open space and said the issue should go to the voters.

"If we don't start doing something, I think we're doomed to live with what we've got now and watch it go away," said commissioner Bernie Curtis.

Thursday's discussion doesn't mean a ballot question will be drafted. While the commissioners appear inclined toward a question, a formal decision won't be made until March 16.

The action followed several months of workshops and meetings on open space preservation. The county planning commission held a series of workshops to gauge public opinion about the importance of open space and whether people would be willing to pay to preserve it.

The results of a survey at those workshops showed 74 percent of the respondents were willing to pay for preservation. A semi-private coalition of business, planning and ranching community members has also been meeting and considering a ballot question.

One option would be a new tax to raise money for buying open space or development rights. Ranchers weighed in with different opinions.

"I'm not against open space, but I'm against myself paying for it," said rancher Clarence Burr of Gardnerville. "If you try a tax, I don't think it's going to fly. I don't think the county should get into it."

Rancher Dave Hussman, also of Gardnerville, said outside money from grants and foundations will probably provide much of the funding for a preservation program if one is implemented.

"But if we have a local source that contributes even a token amount, I think we'll be a lot more successful in attracting those outside sources," he said.

"If we want to preserve the Valley, then someone's going to have to cough up the money besides those of us that own the land," said Dallas Byington, whose ranch is northwest of Minden.

"There's a lot that should be considered before a tax because the taxes are going to accelerate the loss of the ag land," warned Nate Leising, whose ranch is in Gardnerville.

Others said they're confident residents will support a tax, based on the survey results and popular opinion that the Valley's green land is what distinguishes the community.

"I think the voters should decide," said Dan Kaffer, a member of the coalition.

Even if they approve a ballot question, the commissioners may not personally support it.

"I think all the other options that were mentioned need to be explored," said Commissioner Steve Weissinger. "A quarter-cent sales tax is the easy way out. It's not the answer."

"The voters have the right to vote on it," said Commissioner Kelly Kite. "If the voters want to tax themselves and a rancher wants to sell it, we're back to property rights and voters' rights. I personally think it's wrong."

"My sense is that folks aren't going to be willing to tax themselves on an issue like this," said Commissioner Don Miner.

To pursue a ballot question, Douglas County will have to draft an open space management plan. A primary ballot question would be due by May 15, so a general election question, which has a July deadline, would be more likely.


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