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The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners is considering placing a question on November’s general election ballot giving citizens a chance to support what they love about Chaffee County. It would raise funds through a small sales tax increase to support our healthy forests, clean water and wildlife habitat, scenic rural landscapes and quality recreational experiences – the very reasons many people choose to live here and visit.

Strengthening forest health will protect our community from severe wildfire – a serious threat to our quality of life and economy. Questions have come up regarding what the ballot question is, how much it will cost and what uses have been identified for the funds.

What is it?

The ballot measure stems from the Envision Chaffee County planning initiative convened by the county commissioners in September of last year. Approximately 1,500 community members participated in the planning process, involving nine months of working sessions, to create the Envision Community Action Plan’s 40 programs and projects helping to address growth and other citizens’ concerns. Through this strong public participation process, forest health, water, recreation and scenic rural landscapes emerged as top community priorities. If the initiative is passed, funds from a sales tax would be applied toward programs designed specifically to protect those assets.

How much will it cost?

This funding, through a 0.25-percent sales tax (2½ cents per $10), would support what our citizens identified as the most important county assets. A sales tax allows visitors who come here to enjoy our natural resources to also help protect them. The tax would raise an estimated $900,000 a year, only 30 percent of which would be contributed by local resident households, or about $40 a year per household.

How would it work?

If passed, funds from the tax would be leveraged through grants and other matching funds programs to bring an estimated $20 million to the community over the next 10 years. An important part of the ballot initiative specifies that all expenditures would be subject to the recommendations of a citizen advisory committee, an annual independent audit and a cap on administrative expenses of 5 percent.

Specifically, the funds would be used to:

* Strengthen the health of our forests and decrease the risk of catastrophic wildfire in our area. A severe fire would terribly damage our landscapes, water quality and economy.

* Support management of recreation growth impacts like those seen in the Fourmile Recreation Area, where the footprint of campsites has tripled since 2000, bringing more trash, soil erosion, fire rings and human waste each year. If passed, funds raised by this ballot measure would support management programs, developed in conjunction with local land managers and user groups, to maintain quality recreational experiences on our trails, rivers and campsites as the county grows.

* Finally, funding would be applied to help keep the country as country with programs to support working lands so that our scenic landscapes do not disappear under the pressures of growth.

The county commissioners will hear from the community about this opportunity to support what citizens value most at a public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. Please attend this meeting and urge your elected officials to place this funding measure on the ballot.

Smoke is in the air, literally, and now is the time to protect our quality of life, now and for future generations. Because as local rancher and Envision participant Brady Everett said, “Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”

Cindy Williams
Envision Chaffee County Co-Chair