For the week of June 2, 1999  thru June 8, 1999  

Backers say misconceptions led to rejection of open-space bond

Too soon to say if they’ll try again

Express Staff Writer

With defeat of the $6.5 million Save the Open Space bond, proponents of the measure are asking themselves what went wrong and what to do differently next time around.

Passage of the measure that would use property tax dollars to purchase open space easements, required a two-thirds majority vote. County-wide the bond received approval from a scant 50 percent of voters.

SOS organizer Scott Boettger said it was too early to tell what steps would be taken next.

"We’re trying to figure out if there’s an opportunity to pursue the bond in the future," Boettger said. "People have to grow into these things; bonds don’t always pass the first time."

Boettger attributed defeat of the bond to misinformation and public misconceptions about how the program would work. However, Boettger added that the SOS campaign "raised a lot of awareness about what landowners can and can’t do with their property."

Boettger said he was disappointed with the lack of support from the south part of the county.

"The reason we got started was to address the ag-land controversy in the south part of the county," Boettger said. "Then we realized it had to be a county-wide program, that it had to protect both north and south county resources."

The election was broken down into eight districts. The largest support for the bond came from the north with a 61 percent vote of approval in Sun Valley and 64 percent in Ketchum. In mid-valley, Hailey residents voted 48 percent in favor of the measure, while 60 percent of Bellevue residents voted against it.

In the south county the bond managed a dismal approval rating of 37 percent in the Gannett-Picabo district and meager 7 percent in Carey.

In response to the lack of support for the bond in Gannett, Picabo and Carey, Boettger referred to rumors of regulations on agricultural property purchased through the bond that would take control of the land away from farmers and ranchers due to restrictions placed on easements

"There are eight or nine years of mistrust with land owners in the south part of the county that we couldn’t overcome in just a few months."

In hindsight Boettger questioned the selection criteria for properties considered for purchase through the bond. "Maybe in the future we need to identify properties up front."

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, sponsored the enabling legislation in the Idaho Senate that allows counties to purchase open space easements. He said "My instinct told me leading up to the election that people didn’t have a clear enough picture of the benefits of the program."

Stennett said the biggest downfall of the SOS campaign was that properties to be purchased through the bond were not identified.

"You’ve got to show people what they’re going to get for their tax dollars."

"The people have spoken," Stennett said. "Now it’s time to rethink how we did this and come up with a new plan."

Stennett said the need is still there to preserve open space resources in Blaine County.

"With more planning up front and identification of properties to be purchased through the bond, I think it can pass in the future."

"Some education needs to be done. The public has to have a clear picture of what they’re getting for their vote."


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