What is the Chaffee County “Strengthen Forest Health, Conserve and Support Working Ranches, Farms and Rural landscapes, and Manage the Impacts of Growth” measure?

This measure was referred to the ballot unanimously by county commissioners and would create and dedicate 0.25% sales tax for protecting Chaffee County’s forests, waters, working lands and recreational experiences.

Why do we need it?

Our community is threatened by severe wildfire and the damaging floods that can follow. This investment in forest maintenance and management can reduce the risk and help ensure our forests are healthy, resistant to wildfire and continue to provide clean water. Nothing is more important than safe and clean water. This measure can help protect water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams, and recharge our groundwater supplies.

Our scenic rural landscapes and ranching heritage are experiencing the pressures of growth. Another 5,000 people are expected over the next decade. This measure will support working ranches so our rural lands stay in agriculture.

Population grew 5.6% from 2015 to 2017 and tourism in recent years has increased by double-digit percentages annually. Impacts from this growth are apparent on our public lands, for example, in the popular Fourmile Recreation Area where dispersed campsites have increased 100% since 2004. This measure will help manage the impacts of growth to protect our trails, campsites, and scenic river and streams.

When will this measure be on the ballot?

It will be on the November 6, 2018 ballot.

Why now? Where did this measure come from?

For more than 10 years, there has been discussion about creating dedicated funding devoted to protecting our rural outdoor heritage and quality of life. In the past year, the Envision Chaffee County initiative has engaged county residents in identifying challenges and designing the future they want to see. This measure, unanimously referred by commissioners, is an outgrowth of that process.

How much conservation funding would this create?

It would raise approximately $1 million a year. Only 30% would be generated by local resident households. A 0.25 percent sales tax is equivalent to 2½ cents on a $10 purchase.

How much would it cost me?

It is estimated the cost to the average Chaffee household $40/year, or about $3.35/month.

Why a sales tax?

A sales tax allows visitors to contribute to help support our healthy forests, clean waters and world class recreation, ensuring that all who use and enjoy our natural resources are also paying to protect them. Impact to our lowest income residents is decreased by ensuring that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are excluded.

What will the funding be used for?

This new funding can only be used for:

  • Strengthening forest health to reduce the risk of severe wildfires by planning and executing forest treatments such as fire breaks, selective thinning and wetland enhancement.
  • Conserving and supporting working ranches and farms with tools such as conservation easements and programs developed with the agricultural community that will enhance long-term longevity of working lands.
  • Managing the impacts of increased growth on recreation areas by investing in maintenance, clean-up, and better education.

How can we be sure the funds will be used responsibly?

Solid accountability and transparency standards are built into the measure to ensure funds are spent effectively, efficiently and as promised. All expenditures would be subject to the recommendations of a citizen advisory committee, an annual independent audit and report to the community, and a cap on administrative expenses of 5%. The county has an excellent working example with the Marijuana Excise Tax Advisory Board (METAB), where the county developed a clear board structure, description of required skills and an interview process to select qualified board members.

What will the public get out of it?

This measure will retain and improve our quality of life and livelihoods by making crucial investments now and for future generations. It will:

  • Enable us to improve the health of the forests in our backyard and improve community fire resilience.
  • Help ensure that working lands stay in agriculture.
  • Manage the impacts of growth to maintain our recreation experiences for residents and visitors.

Where does this leave our need for affordable housing?

Chaffee County Commissioners recognize that affordable housing is also a top community priority and are dedicated to building on progress being made to date; progress that includes:

  • Private and nonprofit sector initiation to develop hundreds of affordable housing units in Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and Salida over the past two years.
  • Funding by the county and all three municipalities to hire a Countywide Housing Director to develop a Strategic Plan for Housing that will identify a range of housing solutions and determine the optimal organizational structure going forward.
  • Inclusion of affordable housing as one of four areas funded by county Marijuana Excise Tax dollars, expected to grow to as much as $400,000 a year by 2022.
  • Commissioner authorization on Aug. 23, 2018 to issue private activity bonds valued at $1,002,000 in support of housing projects for low and medium income residents.

Do other counties have similar measures?

While 21 other Colorado counties have conservation sales tax measures, this proposal is unique in supporting healthy forests, decreasing severe wildfire risk, and managing sustainable recreation and agriculture. This measure is an opportunity for Chaffee County to create a stewardship and recreational model that will protect and care for natural resources into the future and leverage millions of dollars in matching funds to bring more program funding to the community.

–Paid for by Yes for protecting forests, waters and working lands