Gallatin County Commissioners support open space program but want to hear from public

6/29/2017 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Freddy Monares, Photo by Rachel Leathe

Gallatin County voters last approved a $10 million bond to preserve open space in 2004, and now it’s time to decide whether to do it again.

The bond money has been spent, and on Monday, the Trust for Public Lands started a discussion with the county’s Open Lands Board on future funding for the program, with either another voter-approved bond or tax levies.

The Open Space Land and Conservation Easement Act authorizes counties to levy taxes to acquire, improve and maintain land or easements for open space preservation. The county has bonded $20 million from two ballot measures in 2000 and 2004.

Jennifer Erickson, vice chair for the Open Lands Board, said for more than 17 years the board has helped preserve nearly 50,000 acres of open land by purchasing conservation easements from willing landowners. She said the organization is now asking commissioners to put the bond initiative back on the ballot for November.

“Without the landowners being willing to contribute and participate in this program, our valley would look very different,” Erickson said.

The Trust for Public Lands released a report at the Monday meeting estimating the impact on the county, if voters choose to fund the program again.

According to the report, if the county chooses to bond, or borrow, for conservation purposes, a $10 million bond would add about $736,000 to the county’s annual debt service. Over a 20-year bond life, average homeowners would have to pay about $10 per year to pay off the bond.

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