Our View: Vote no on Referendum 1A | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Vote no on Referendum 1A

Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights Program is progressive and innovative. Conservationists have lauded it as a model for others to follow.

But the decision to seek an increase in the tax that supports the program is excessive and unnecessary. The proposal, Referendum 1A on the Nov. 1 ballot, should be defeated.

In 1996, voters approved a 1-mill property tax for 10 years to support the PDR program. The tax expires next year. On Nov. 1, the Committee to Preserve Ranchlands and Natural Areas is seeking to increase the tax to 1.5 mills and increase the duration of the tax to 20 years. The tax would raise about $1.25 million and cost the average homeowner about $12 a year per $100,000 of home value.

Since being approved, the PDR program has been used to preserve 7,400 acres in Routt County. Much of that acreage is along scenic roads such as Routt County Road 129 and Colorado Highway 131.

PDR tax funds allow historic ranching organizations to remain in ranching. Often, such operations are land-wealthy but income-poor and are under financial pressure to sell the property for its maximum value — development. PDR allows the county to buy development rights to the property, relieving the financial pressure the landowner faces and ensuring key parcels remain as hay fields, pastures, wildlife habitat or simply as scenic open space.

The development rights value is determined by appraisal, and the landowner is asked to donate 50 percent of the land. A seven-member PDR Citizen Advisory Board reviews candidates for the program and makes recommendations to the county about which projects should be funded. The program’s immediate beneficiaries are the property owners. But all county residents benefit on some level from the program’s ability to preserve open space, limit urban sprawl and protect natural areas.

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But the decision to seek a 50-percent tax increase for 20 years was a bad gambit on the part of PDR advocates. That’s a big leap in a year when taxpayers already must weigh two local tax initiatives and a state tax proposal.

Besides, although we recognize the value of the PDR program, there are other programs in place that accomplish similar goals without a dedicated tax. Indeed, significantly more acreage has been preserved through the nonprofit Yampa Valley Land Trust. Through its various programs, the Land Trust has conserved more than 36,000 acres in Northwest Colorado in the past 10 years.

The Yampa Valley Land Trust works with willing landowners to establish conservation easements and works to match conservation-minded buyers with the right properties. Such private stewardship always should be preferable to public funding of land conservation efforts.

The existing PDR program’s tax funding is reasonable and is supported by the community, and we might have looked favorably on a request simply to extend it for another 10 years. Instead, Referendum 1A asks for a 50-percent hike in the tax and a doubling of its duration. That’s asking too much. Vote no on 1A.