Of the three local issues on the 2018 general election ballot, the one gaining the most attention has been Ballot issue 1A, known as the conservation initiative. Supporters of the initiative, which proposes that residents of the county increase taxes by $1,162,000 annually (projected for the first fiscal year increase), say the question isn’t whether the county can afford the tax increase but whether the county’s abundant natural assets are worth protecting. If it passes, 1A would levy a 0.25-percent sales tax (representing 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase) on county purchases, and all of the revenue would remain in Chaffee County.
The 2018 ballot question came out of the 18-month-long Envision Chaffee County process, which gained input from some 1,500 county residents representing 72 businesses and organizations. That input and a community survey showed that county residents appear to strongly support efforts to protect the county’s forests and waters as well as the vistas of working lands and rural landscapes. It revealed deep concerns over the potential for destructive wildfires and the impact on trails, campsites, rivers and streams from a major increase in recreational usage.
The resulting ballot language wove together residents’ concerns over the protection and wise stewardship of the county’s natural resources. The initiative has gained written support in the form of dozens of letters to the editor, including letters from two of the three county commissioners, Keith Baker and Dave Potts. For his part, Commissioner Greg Felt has been a visible force in the Envision process from the beginning.
Protecting that which makes Chaffee County special, says one of the effort’s leaders, Cindy Williams, is what 1A is about. “Nearly half of Chaffee County citizens (49 percent) depend on income from tourism, outdoor recreation and agriculture. How can this not be important? I can’t think of anything more important than protecting the water and lands that are important to our quality of life and our livelihood.”
Among the concerning statistics the ballot measure would address is forest health. Surveys by the Colorado State Forest Service have revealed that some 54 percent of forests have already been impacted by insects. The forest service estimates that by the year 2020, insect infestation will increase the current rate of five standing dead trees per acre to 120 per acre, greatly increasing the risk of wildfire.
Chaffee County, which has long been known for its sweeping vistas across working ranch land, has seen a 30-percent decline in agriculture since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, the amount of area impacted by dispersed camping has doubled since 2004.
To assure that funds will be focused on the mission, a citizens’ advisory committee will recommend how the funds and matching grants are prioritized for projects. Administrative expenses will be capped at five percent of total budget.
While many people support 1A (evidenced in letters to the Ark Valley Voice editor), no one appears to have come out against the measure, at least not officially. The other issue competing for attention with county residents is the urgent need for affordable housing for its workforce, and this competing need was voiced during public hearings prior to the framing of the ballot language. While a few people have commented that the Envision process did not cast a wide-enough net to represent the breadth and depth of county voices, no comments against 1A were proposed for inclusion in the county’s ballot booklet by the constitutional deadline.