For the week of May 19, 1999  thru May 25, 1999  

Push to pass $6.5 million open-space bond intensifies

Voters will decide on May 25


By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer

With a $6.5 million Save Our Open Spaces bond election less than a week away, District 21 Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum issued a challenge to residents of Blaine County.

"If you want to preserve open spaces, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is," she said.

Earlier this year, Jaquet sponsored legislation in the Idaho Legislature allowing counties to issue bonds to purchase open-space easements. It was this legislation that paved the way for the May 25 SOS bond election.

A two-thirds majority vote is required for passage of the bond.

Jaquet said the legislation is designed to preserve open spaces in the county, from agricultural resources in the south to recreation easements in the north.

The bond would increase property taxes by approximately $12 per $100,000 of assessed value. The money would be used to buy open-space easements from property owners who may otherwise be forced to develop open land.

As for the tax increase, Jaquet said growth does not pay for itself. The increase in public services associated with suburban sprawl demands more in property taxes than it generates and is a burden to taxpayers, Jaquet said.

Jaquet said she is tired of the legal wrangling in the south part of the county.

"We need to compensate farmers and ranchers who have had their property rights denied and who have been forced to forego development that current zoning allows," Jaquet said. "All south county landowners have is the value of their land. The SOS program would give us a tool that begins to address these land-use issues across the county."

Jaquet said it is important for the public to help decide which lands are preserved.

The county would purchase open-space easements from owners who volunteer their land. The easements would protect agricultural resources, wildlife habitat, recreational and public access and areas of scenic value.

The 12-member SOS steering committee appointed by the Blaine County Board of Commissioners recently drafted land-selection criteria. The criteria are based on the results of a voter survey that asked what types of resources residents consider most important.

The committee said 40 percent of the $6.5 million will be spent for easements north of Glendale Road and 40 percent will be spent south of it. The remaining 20 percent will be placed in a discretionary fund reserved for properties whose conservation is found to be in the public interest.

Properties north of Glendale Road will be ranked by each committee member using a 500-point system. Each of the following characteristics may be worth up to 100 points: scenic qualities, wildlife habitat and water resources, recreational possibilities and the threat of development. In addition, committee members may award 100 points at their discretion.

Lands south of Glendale Road will be ranked the same way, with an additional 400 points possible for agricultural considerations, for a total of 900 points. These properties will be ranked by soil quality, growing season and elevation, and proximity to farmland or other property restricted as open space.

The rankings of both north- and south-county properties would then be adjusted based on their potential to attract additional matching state and federal grants.

North and south county properties would not be ranked against each other.

The steering committee would recommend easement purchases to the county Board of Commissioners, which would make the final decision.

Monday the board reviewed the selection criteria in a public hearing. Board chair MaryAnn Mix said the criteria are still in draft form.

"This bond election is the first of its kind in Idaho, and thus is uncharted territory," Mix said.

"With a successful bond election, the steering committee, with the assistance of the public and the board, will continue to examine criteria and to adopt policy," Mix said.

According to Mix, in identifying properties the board will consider public comment, committee recommendations and the greater public benefit.

"I will make this point very clear—the intent is to be fair and to ensure that the entire community shares equitably in open-space distribution and resources protected.

"We have a great opportunity here. We will make certain that the public has the opportunity to participate at every level."

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling asked if open space could be purchased for a park system for playing fields. He said the county has the worst facilities in the state and that his department had tried over the years to get additional fields to improve youth programs.

In a letter presented at the hearing from the Blaine County Recreation District, director Mary Austin Crofts said parents and proponents of active sports for youth all agree the SOS bond could be a perfect way to acquire space for future soccer and baseball fields as well as other outdoor recreational needs.

SOS organizer Scott Boettger said, "Resources both north and south need to be protected and here’s our opportunity."

On Tuesday, May 25, polls will open at 8 a.m. and close at 8p.m. Polling sites include the Carey school, Picabo store, Bellevue City Hall, Hailey Armory, Sun Valley City Hall and Ketchum City Hall.

Residents north of East Fork Road vote at Ketchum City Hall. Residents south of East Fork road vote at the Hailey Armory.

 

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