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Greenbacks for greenbelt

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun
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A town-sponsored survey shows that area residents are willing to pitch in money to protect open space around Truckee.

Guided by the results of the survey, the Town of Truckee is likely to put a measure on the ballot in 2006 to pursue either a sales tax hike or a parcel charge to raise funds to buy undeveloped land.

Protecting land along the Truckee River and at nearby lakes registered the highest support among residents who backed both a quarter-cent sales tax hike and a property assessment to raise money for land purchases.

“The survey results suggest that, if packaged properly and combined with a broad-based and well-funded public education campaign, the measure has a very good chance of being successful,” the survey read.

A polling firm conducted 300 telephone interviews, averaging 10 minutes in length, to gauge support for the sales tax. More than 70 percent of those called said they would “definitely” or “probably” support the measure. A quarter-cent sales tax increase would raise approximately $800,000 per year, said Truckee Town Manager Steve Wright.

The tax initiative is a way the town can give residents what they want ” open space ” while still maintaining a balanced budget, Wright said.

“Clearly the town does not have the discretionary capital to acquire much-desired open space,” Wright said.

In a mailed property assessment questionnaire, of which 931 were completed, the $56 parcel charge per year was supported by 59 percent of the respondents.

A sales tax initiative, while enjoying greater support, must pass by a two-thirds majority vote, the survey said. A parcel charge will only have to achieve a majority vote to be successful.

The request for a survey came from an open space committee formed by the town in 2003 to explore ways to protect undeveloped land. The committee, which included representatives from nonprofits, agencies and districts in the area, decided a professional poll was necessary to gauge public opinion on the matter.

Town councilman Richard Anderson, who sat on the open space committee, said a private campaign group must now form to educate the public on the effort and do further research for the initiative. That group will fund and direct the “full-blown campaign” since the town is not allowed to use taxpayer money to support a ballot measure, he said.

“It is up to the campaign committee to judge which has a better chance of winning,” Anderson said. “It is up to them to strategize the ways by which they will win the ballot campaign.

Anderson said the sales tax option has the benefit of raising money from visitors and residents alike ” an option that more equally distributes the burden across groups that use the undeveloped land around town.

“That is one of the benefits of the sales tax, that the burden will be broadened beyond property owners,” Anderson said. “The parcel charge hits only property owners … the idea is you want everyone who benefits to help finance this thing.”

The two town council members, Anderson and Vice Mayor Beth Ingalls, are expected to recommend ballot language to the entire town council in the next couple of months, as well as propose an election date.

With the Town of Truckee contemplating becoming the new player in protecting open space, it has examples and experience in the region to follow.

In the 15 years the Truckee Donner Land Trust has conserved open space, it has protected more than 3,300 acres. The organization’s successes include:


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