Saturday, September 17, 2005
On Nov. 1, voters will have the opportunity to renew the existing Routt County Ranchlands and Natural Areas Program by voting yes on 1A.
Ten years ago, Routt County voters approved funding to preserve ranchlands and natural areas. This fund, known as the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Program, has helped fund the permanent preservation of more than 7,400 acres, with another 1,400 acres approved for funding. Lands have been preserved throughout the county, from the upper reaches of the Yampa River to the Elk River Valley and west Routt County. Projects have ranged in size from the 1,281-acre Wolf Mountain Ranch to a 23-acre natural area within the Howelsen Hill complex. Unfortunately, funding for this program will expire next year. A yes vote on Referendum 1A is needed to renew the program and ensure our ranchland and natural areas preservation funding continues.
Voting yes on Referendum 1A will help protect water quality by preserving land along rivers and streams, will protect critical wildlife habitat and will curb urban sprawl by protecting open lands between communities. It will also provide a source of funds to protect key natural areas within communities.
Voting yes on Referendum 1A will ensure working ranchers have an opportunity to continue operating, thus preserving the rural character of Routt County. Preserving our ranchlands and natural areas will, in turn, benefit our economy. Our ranching heritage and wide-open vistas attract people who fuel the tourism industry. The economic benefits of open ranchland to tourism have been supported by several studies, including one recently completed by our Cooperative Extension Service. Let's not destroy the very qualities that make this valley so attractive to visitors and residents alike.
The existing PDR tax generates about $700,000 each year for all projects countywide. It is not enough to keep pace with the funding requests from local preservation projects. There are many worthwhile projects that meet the very detailed criteria, but the number of requests regularly exceeds the amount of available funding. Without additional funds, many potential preservation projects are at risk for development.
The renewal of the Routt County Ranchlands and Natural Areas program proposes an increase of one-half of one mill, or $4 per $100,000 of assessed home value, over the existing tax. This small increase in funding will help the Routt County program keep pace with rapidly increasing land values. These funds are also needed to provide the required match for state and federal preservation programs. Without continued funding, we cannot attract these outside dollars for land preservation. The landowners of each project also contribute to the cost of preservation, donating, on average, 47 percent of project costs. Routt County has paid less than one-fifth of the total land value to preserve these properties because of contributions from other agencies and landowner donations.
In 1996, Routt County voters led the way and became the first to adopt such a tax in the entire intermountain West. They took the initiative to protect our community for current and future generations. It is time to reaffirm that commitment and vote yes on 1A.
Susan Corser, chairwoman,
Committee to Preserve Ranchlands and Natural Areas