Larimer County: Municipalities Divided on Open Space Tax Proposal

The Fort Collins City Council announced its support for the County’s proposal to increase the County’s share of the quarter cent open space sales tax revenue from 42 to 50 percent. However, the Loveland City Council expressed concerns with the proposal, which is opposed by Loveland’s Open Lands Advisory Commission.

The difference between the two jurisdictions is that Fort Collins has an additional city open space tax while Loveland does not. Loveland staff estimate the city would lose over $250,000 a year if voters approve the new split. This creates a dilemma for Loveland, which is working to acquire more land along the Big Thompson River corridor. In 2013 Fort Collins received 33 percent of the open space tax distribution and Loveland received 16.7 percent. The remainder of the cities’ split went to small communities such as Estes Park, Wellington and Berthoud. The County’s 42 percent split amounted to $4.7 million last year but it argues a larger portion of the tax revenue is needed to pay for operations and maintenance on its holdings.

The County doesn’t have a lot of time to convince Loveland to support the new proposal if it wants to get the language on the ballot this fall. Commissioner Tom Donnelly, who joined the Loveland City Council for the discussion, said the proposal isn’t perfect but that there were worse options out there such as the possibility of a new open lands citizen initiative that could take matters out of the hands of elected officials or the expiration of the tax (which is currently scheduled to sunset in 4 years).

The Loveland City Council wants more detailed information before it makes a final decision. It is important that the elected officials reach a consensus for many reasons, most obviously to show voters that all the jurisdictions are in agreement; otherwise the passage of the ballot question could be jeopardized in November. The argument could be made that if open space is a priority in Loveland, then its voters should also approve a Loveland tax to supplement the tax revenues the City receives from Larimer County just as Fort Collins voters have done.

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