By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver | July 19, 2022
[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] — A measure to extend the Douglas County open space sales and use tax for 20 years moved closer to the Nov. 8 general election ballot on Monday.
The county commissioners voted 2-1 to consider formally approving a ballot question at an August business meeting. Before that, the commissioners will refine the proposed ballot language from a nonprofit grassroots citizens committee and consider a legal review of the measure.
The commissioners will also hold a live town hall to gather additional public input on the issue at 6:05 p.m. on July 27.
At a more than 90-minute work session Monday, a parade of some 30-35 people urged the commissioners to place the measure on the ballot. They included officials of municipalities in the county, conservation groups, teachers, equestrians, outdoor recreation and open space enthusiasts, among others.
Timing concerns Thomas
An overflow crowd of supporters did not change Commissioner Lora Thomas' mind. Earlier this year, she said she did not favor placing the measure before voters this fall due to an expected long, confusing ballot.
She voted against the Monday motion and said she does favor a continuation of the tax. But the timing this year would hurt the chances of success, Thomas added.
"I also think a 20-year extension should be shorter," she said. "In 10 years, what if another engaged citizens group like you approaches the commissioners and wants to go in another direction?"
She also noted a 2019 county survey stated that 89% of residents said they would support a road maintenance tax that barely passed with 52% of the vote.
"Last year we discussed this but didn't place it on the ballot," Thomas continued. "Castle Rock had an open space tax last year that failed. I think next year you'd have a better opportunity of getting it across the finish line."
Teal, Laydon favor this year's ballot
Commissioner George Teal disagreed with Thomas and said he wasn't worried about the 20-year length of the extension.
"I'm very supportive of going this year and if we fail, repetition matters," he stated. "This tax failed the first time it was on the ballot."
"It's overwhelming to see this level of support. I know open space is a priority of our citizens," Commissioner Abe Laydon told the crowd. "This is a common-sense measure. I'm with you."
Citizens group proposes funding change
Formed a few months ago, the Douglas County Open Space Initiative citizens group wants county voters to extend the 0.17% open space portion of the county's 1% sales and use tax until 2044. It is due to end by 2024.
The county created its open space program in 1995 after voters approved a 1/6 of a cent sales and use tax to protect over 63,000 acres of open space. Voters extended the original tax in 1998 to Jan. 1, 2024.
The $16 million a year tax also helps fund land acquisition for county open space, parks and trails. Currently, the county owns and maintains around 72,000 acres of open space.
The group also proposes a 20% shareback for county municipalities for their parks, trails and open space. The rate has varied over the years. The current allocation is a 14% cumulative shareback.
A $15,000 annual minimum per municipality would also be set.
Their proposal would base allocations on population instead of motor vehicle registration and add the cities of Castle Pines and Lone Tree to those receiving shareback money. The two municipalities have never received shareback funds from the county since Lone Tree incorporated in 1995 and Castle Pines in 2007.
Thomas noted Castle Pines and Lone Tree had received more county money for their parks and open space than they would have received from the shareback program.
Metropolitan districts would also be allowed to receive 20% grants for their parks and open space needs, which Thomas noted could be significant for larger districts like Highlands Ranch.