DougCo puts open space tax extension on November ballot

Mike McKibbin

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Hidden Mesa open space in Douglas County. |Douglas County

By Mike McKibbin / NewsBreak Denver / Aug. 24, 2022

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] — A 15-year extension of a Douglas County sales and use tax for parks, trails, historic preservation and open space will be before county voters on Nov. 8.

The county commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that set the ballot language.

If voters approve the measure, 0.17% of the county's 1% sales and use tax will remain in place through Dec. 31, 2039. First approved by voters in 1994 and extended in 1998, the tax is due to expire at the end of 2023.

The $16 million a year tax helps fund land acquisition for county open space, parks and trails. The county owns and maintains around 72,000 acres of open space.

County Attorney Lance Ingalls said the Colorado Supreme Court had ruled tax extensions are not considered tax increases.

Negotiations result in several changes

After the commissioners listened to many supporters of the tax extension, Commissioner George Teal noted he "heard some dissatisfaction" about the issue when initially presented.

The Douglas County Open Space Initiative nonprofit citizens group approached the commissioners earlier this year.

"Then things picked up and I think we now have a great model to move forward and a wonderful ballot measure to present to the voters," he said. "Let them choose the future they'd like to see."

Since the 1994 tax approval, Commissioner Abe Laydon said, the county had preserved about 50% of county land as open space. He also noted county parks have about 3 million visitors, and open space properties attract some 500,000 people annually.

The citizen's group negotiated with the commissioners in a series of workshop meetings to reach a consensus on a new allocation process for the money the tax would generate.

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If approved by voters, an extension of the Douglas County open space tax is expected to bring in more yearly revenue. |Douglas County

Brian O'Malley, chairman of the county open space advisory committee, said that included a $5 million boost for county parks and trails and a new allocation of $716,000 yearly for historic preservation. He said that is a first-time line item budget for historic preservation.

Citizens group board member Jennifer Drybread said a new method to share money with the county's five cities and towns is more simplified.

The county was removed from the shareback program, and Drybread said the new formula would result in a 6% increase in shareback money over average annual amounts. Municipalities use the money for parks, trails and open space within their borders.

Citizens group member Steve Boand, a former county commissioner, added the changes would increase average annual shareback revenue from less than 14% to 20%. The commissioners would have discretion on where to direct some of the tax money, he said, within the limits of the ballot measure.

Parks, trails get more money

Boand said 70% of the tax money traditionally went to open space and 30% to parks and trails. That would change to a 50/50 split with voter approval.

Also new with the extension is the addition of Castle Pines and Lone Tree to the shareback program. The two entities did not exist when voters approved the 1994 tax.

Citizens group member Jay Sage said the group has a campaign strategy to pass the measure, and campaign funding will soon begin to accumulate.

Sage paraphrased a song by the Rolling Stones to sum up the process.

"Not every stakeholder got what they wanted in this," Sage said. "But we think we got what we need."

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