Douglas County considering tax to ensure a rural ambience
South Shore residents in Douglas County may soon be asked to help the Carson Valley foot the bill for its disappearing open space.
Urban sprawl is threatening farm and ranch land, open space and natural areas in the Carson Valley while many residents want to keep the rural character of their community intact.
Douglas County Commissioners agreed last week to place a ballot question in the November election which will let voters decide the best way to raise funds to protect open space from further residential home and commercial encroachment.
The ballot tax question would put money aside for the county to buy the development rights from willing landowners.
Douglas County Commissioner Steve Weissinger and County Manager Daniel Holler said, as open space is legally defined, Tahoe also has qualifying areas like stream environmental zones and public access areas that could benefit from such a measure.
“Lake Tahoe residents need to be involved in this issue,” Weissinger said. He added that up until now it is fair to say that the issue has received more input from the valley.
To change that, Weissinger has directed that the open space ballot question be on every commissioner’s agenda until the November election.
There are three options being reviewed by residents and commissioners.
n The most popular choice heard at Thursday’s commissioners meeting was a quarter-cent increase in sales tax that would raise an estimated $1.2 million a year for 30 years.
A random sample of 400 Douglas County residents was taken by a Florida polling company between March 30 and April 2 to determine which registered voters would support a local sales tax increase. Fifty-nine percent were in favor of the increase, 26 percent were opposed and 15 percent were undecided.
A follow-up question describing the specifics of the plan – voluntary and willing landowners would be paid for their development rights so that ranching and farming would be allowed but no other development – showed 75 percent supporting the measure.
n The second option was a real estate transfer tax. The tax would come from a percentage added to the cost of residential properties sales. For instance, if a home cost $100,000, one-tenth of 1 percent of the cost would be the tax.
It is unclear how much revenue the real estate transfer tax could accumulate.
n The commissioners agreed that a third option, an additional property tax, was not a feasible solution.
So would Tahoe residents pass a measure that would primarily help their neighbors in the valley?
“At this point, yes I would,” Warren Day, a Tahoe resident said Monday. Day wasn’t aware that such a ballot question was in the works. She said she hoped the community process would let lake residents become involved.
Melany Kruver, a Zephyr Heights resident, said open space is great and she doesn’t have a problem with a reasonable level of development, either. She said she might be reluctant supporting a tax that went more to the valley than to Tahoe.
“The book is being written as we speak,” Weissinger said.
The commissioners approved the formation of a citizen panel Thursday. It will include three residents in favor of a tax for open space and three who oppose any type of tax.
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