Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Open space levy up in early returns

Lands eyed as part of $3.5 million levy include Silver Creek and Big and Little Wood rivers

Express Staff Writer

With returns from 11 of Blaine County's 15 precincts in by late Tuesday evening, approval of Proposition 1, or the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy, looked increasingly likely.

Based on the early results, those voting "yes" on the ballot initiative totaled 4,410 votes, or about 57.1 percent of the returns. Those voting "no" totaled 3,316 votes, or about 42.9 percent of the early returns.

Proposition 1 would temporarily boost property-tax levy rates in Blaine County to generate funds for the preservation of valuable open space in select locations throughout the county. The idea for the levy was hatched by four local nonprofits: the Idaho Conservation League, Wood River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Citizens for Smart Growth.

The groups banded together to support the temporary, two-year, $3.5-million levy. Passage of the measure will only require a simple majority of voters, or 50 percent plus one.

Under the temporary levy, the average county homeowner would see his or her annual property tax increase by $50, based on the county's median home value of $436,000.

Last month, the Blaine County Commission approved a resolution that details how funds raised by the levy increase may be used. Areas identified for possible preservation efforts include the Big Wood River corridor, the Silver Creek and south Bellevue Triangle area and the Little Wood River watershed stretching from the Little Wood Reservoir dam north to the boundary with Sawtooth National Forest lands.

If the measure is approved, the commission will appoint an advisory board that will recommend ways to use the funds to achieve conservation and public benefits.

Though they acknowledged the dire economic times the country faces, backers of the proposed levy expressed optimism in recent weeks, pointing out that the county's natural assets are a cornerstone of the local economy and are worth saving. With the county expected to continue growing at a strong pace, waiting to fund local open-space preservation could mean the loss of these key parcels, said Vanessa Crossgrove-Fry, executive director of Citizens for Smart Growth.

"Right now is an opportunity to protect our land, water and wildlife before it's too late," she said last week.

Another idea that's been floated would be to use funds generated by the levy to help purchase development rights as part of the county's transfer-of-development-rights program. The program allows landowners in specified areas of the county to sell their rights to develop their land to landowners in other areas that the county has identified as being appropriate for denser subdivision development.

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