City searches for open space dollars
Possibility of permanent fund explored

X-Rock, a popular climbing area north of town on the flanks of Animas Mountain, and 2.45 acres surrounding it, was bought as open space in April 2001. Durango’s Open Space Advisory Board is looking at ways of securing a permanent fund that would go
toward the purchase of more open space, such as the X-Rock parcel, in the future./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

As undeveloped land in and around Durango becomes more of a commodity, the City of Durango is exploring ways to preserve the open space that, for many residents, has come to typify the town’s quality of life. And while it may be hard to put a price tag on such a thing, in coming years, residents may be asked just how much it means to them.

For a little more than a year, Durango’s recently created Open Space Advisory Board has been looking at ways to secure a permanent funding source for open space acquisition and conservation.

“Our goal is to find some way to get dedicated funding for open space,” said Scott Graham, chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board. “And the reality of that, in general, is you end up having to turn to the taxpayers.”

Graham is one of five Durango open space advocates appointed to the board by the Durango City Council in late 2002, said Durango Manager of Parks, Open Space and Trails, Kevin Hall. The board came about as the result of the city’s 2001 Parks, Open Space and Trails Plan, which included maps detailing areas with the potential for open space preservation and how to go about it.

“The board is charged with implementing the city’s open space plan,” said Hall.

Since early 2003, the board has been advising City Council on topics dealing with open space and holding monthly meetings.

Hall said permanent funding is being explored because right now, money for open space preservation is allocated on a yearly basis through the city’s budgetary process. He said for 2004, $50,000 was4 budgeted toward open space. However, the yearly amount varies due to budgetary constraints.

“The last three years have been a little tough,” he said. “There’s no guarantee from year to year how much money there will be.”

Graham said with the creation of a permanent fund, the city will have greater leverage for going after larger or more expensive parcels.

“The only way to preserve open space is if you have money coming in,” he said.

The Animas River snakes its way through the valley north of Durango. With undeveloped land becoming more of a commodity, the City of Durango is exploring ways to acquire more open space./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Two possible options for creating such a permanent fund are bonding, where money is borrowed up front and paid off over time, and a sales tax increase. Both measures would require a City Council-initiated ballot issue and ultimate voter approval.

But, before any of that happens, Hall and Graham said the idea will be put in front of residents to see if it is even palatable. Hall pointed to a countywide use tax initiative for open space that failed in 2001 when it was put to the voters.

“We know we want to find a source of permanent funding, but we’re not sure what that is yet,” said Hall. “We need to test the waters.”

Graham agreed.

“At some point, we’ll have to try to talk to people and see what they say,” he said.

One possibility for gauging public sentiment would be a survey, much like the one put to residents prior to the completion of the Animas River Trail and the Durango Community Recreation Center.

However, both men spoke to the fact that an issue as big as the creation of a dedicated fund will not be settled instantaneously.

“Dedicated funding is a big deal,” said Graham. “You can’t jump right in.”

Nevertheless, Graham, who grew up in Durango, said he is confident that the idea of dedicated funding for open space will be met with acceptance.

“Over time, open space has become a higher and higher priority for the community,” he said. “There’s a real strong belief in the value of open space preservation.”

He pointed to the recent acquisitions of the Burkett property on the flanks of Animas Mountain, and the land surrounding X-Rock, directly north of town.

“The reaction to that was positive,” he said. “People have applauded it.”

Despite the work the board is making toward realizing its goal, Graham noted that it will be the City Council that has the final say on the matter.

“All we can do it advise City Council on open space issues,” he said. “We cannot put something on the ballot. It’s up to them to decide.”

But he said the creation of the board itself is a positive move toward that goal.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” he said. “It speaks well of our elected officials and the people of Durango that they are recognizing that open space is disappearing around Durango, and if there’s something to do to preserve it and make Durango a better place to live, let’s explore it.”







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