Loveland's Independent News Source

Loveland - July 12, 2014

County officials looking to renew a county-wide quarter-cent sales tax to acquire and maintain open space
are concerned that Loveland's hording of their share of that revenue could put another 20 year extension
planned for this November's ballot in jeopardy.   If a continuance of the tax is not passed by voters before
November 2018, Larimer County will face serious financial consquences.

Originally proposed in 1993, the quarter-cent open lands sales tax failed to gain voter support.  It was
reintroduced in 1998 but with a formula that shared the revenue among the county and the cities.  Another
change was the addition of a representative from the larger cities on the county's open lands advisory board
and a strict formula of how the money can be spent for acquisition of land versus maintanance by the county.

Each year the county distributes open lands sales tax revenue according to the 1998 voter approved
formula.  Last year Larimer County kept $4.7 million for its own open lands program while the City of
Loveland received just over $1.9 million.  Ft. Collins received nearly $4 million while the other cities
received very small amounts (see chart in right column) as compared to Loveland and Ft. Collins.  The
formula relies on both sales taxes in the cities and population (whichever results is a higher distribution) to
determine how much is shared with each city.

The open lands quarter-cent sales tax funds acquisition and maintenance of open spaces for recreation,
conservation and wildlife habitat areas within Larimer County where the tax is collected.  The county and
cities either buy land outright or purchase a "conservation easement" which is cheaper and simply
precludes the property from being used for future growth.  The estimates of current land costs provided by
the county show a price of $20,000 per acre in urban areas, $2,500 per acre in rural areas and an average of
$2,200 per acre to place a conservation easement on a parcel to prevent future development.  In its funding
projections the county assumes a flat 2% growth in those land prices over the next 20 years.

Critics of the program have argued the open lands tax is a thinly disguised effort to limit new developments
in the county by buying-up desirable open parcels near the cities while also disqualifying developable farm
land using conservation easements.  Loveland's more conservative approach to open lands is attributed by
some to the developers on previous city councils who wanted to keep the inventory of buildable parcels
available for new construction even far outside the city.  Last year, for example, the City of Loveland fought a
farmer far outside city boundaries from obtaining a conservation easement
see story  harming relations with
the county.  In addition, senior Loveland staff referred to the county as a "
common enemy" for Johnstown
and Loveland due to the open lands program's use of conservation easements.

Loveland Accused of  Hording Open Land Monies - "Use it or lose it"

Loveland is sitting on approximately $15 million of open lands sales tax revenue which means they have
been accumulating but not spending the money garnered from the special sales tax.  Gary Havener,
Loveland's Director of Parks & Recreation, said during the council's last study session that the city has
enough open space tax set aside in just the longterm maintanance account to last 20 years.  

If Loveland follows its current trend and the ratio of funds it receives continue by a new ballot measure, the
result could be less than 1,500 acres acquired despite receiving over $70 million throughout the life of the
program.  Anti-tax groups may point to Loveland's $15 million "reserve" as a reason the tax doesn't need to
be continued.   Larimer Count's remedy is a modified sharing arrangement for the continuation of the tax on
November's ballot as illustrated by the three options in the column on the right of this story.  

By contrast, Larimer County has acquired approximately 1,800 acres per year since the program began now
totaling over 33,000 acres.   Popular recreation areas like Devil's Backbone and Horsetooth Reservoir are
products of Larimer County's application of the monies made available through the quarter-cent open lands
sales tax.  Some projects, like Hermit Park in Estes Park, came together as a collaboration between the
county and cities combinung their open lands money.

Currently, Larimer County operates 10 different trail heads and 83 miles of trails on the some 25,000 acres
acquired for public access.  Another 8,000 acres were preserved for wildlife habitat and working farms
through conservation easements.  County officials believe the ratio of funds from the special sales tax
available for acquisition should be reduced to allow more funding for development and maintenance of
existing open lands.

If voters fail to approve a continuation of the tax, Larimer County may be facing a financial crises according to
Loveland officials who feel buying the open space projects like Devil's Backbone without longterm reserves
to sustain them was unwise.  Kerri Rollins, Larimer County's open lands manager, is reported to have told
Loveland officials that failure to pass an extension of the quarter-cent sales tax by 2018 could result in the
county selling parcels of open lands to meet their maintanance budget.

Loveland bought Hidden Valley near Devil's Backbone (behind Jamoca Joe's on Highway 34) in 2003 for $1.8
million but decided not to open the land to the public by building trials or providing parking.  Nonetheless,
the property is technically open to the public but unless you know the location and can find legal parking
most residents don't even know it is public land.  In fact, that means the only hikers spotted on the property
might be Loveland city oficials along with their families and friends.  Other properties acquired by Loveland
include River's Edge, Longview Farms (between Ft. Collins and Loveland) which was a joint purchase with
Loveland and Ft. Collins along with  Namaqua, Morey and Boyd Lake (north end of Boyd Lake).

Loveland's View

According to Loveland City Councilman Hugh McKean,

"The Loveland program is true to the philisophical nature of Loveland.  We spend money more
conservately and plan further into the future.

Councilman Hugh McKean sits on Larimer County's Open Lands Advisory Board (OLAB) and supports an
extension that he sees as true to the 1998 measure.  The one change he opposes most emphatically being
promoted by the county is removing Loveland, Berthoud, Estes Park and Ft. Collins from the OLAB.  

Councilmam McKean points to the existing parks in Loveland (
see map) and explains the county should have
planned for the potential sunset of the open lands revenue tax should voters fail to extend it in 2018.   
Loveland's Hidden Valley, McKean explains, isn't costing taxpayers money to maintain but does meet the
conservation" objective of the 1998 open lands sales tax initiaitve.

As the program matures the county wants greater flexibility in shifting money away from development and
towards maintance.  The county is also looking to rebalance the share away from the cities to help maintain
the properties already acquired by the county.  Option #2, column right, has been endorsed by the City of Ft.
Collins and is being promoted by the county.  Loveland doesn't appear very interested by the reaction of
councilors during the recent study session when Larimer County Commissioner Tom Donnelly presented
them to Loveland's City Council.

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Clark emphasized the need to focus the open lands money on open space projects
within city limits while Mayor Gutierrez agreed than advocated for spending open lands money outside the
city but only as partnerships.  Finally, Councilman Ralph Trenary told the Larimer County visitors to the
meeting that if anyone doesn't like how Loveland spends its open lands money they can "stuff it."  His
comment came near the end of an otherwise respectful exchange between the two local entities when
Councilman McKean was advocating for a continued role in determining how the county spends its funding.

According to county officials, they have already conducted many online and public surveys to determine
what types of uses the public wants to see.  Public responses appear to favor more development of existing
lands driving the county to favor Option #2 which permits money otherswise intended for acquisition to also
be used for development of existing assets in the program to increase access and use.

It appears the county will likely proceed without Loveland to ask voters in November to approve their
Option #2.  Sitting on top of an unspent $15 million and acres of property acquired but not available to
public use may hurt the city's argument that their share should not be reduced.
Councilman Ralph
Trenary tells
Larimer County
officials to "stuff it"
at the end of an
otherwise polite
meeting about open
lands tax renewal

see video
Loveland Hording of Open Lands
Revenue Has County Worried
Option #1
Allows for future acquisitions of approx.
12,000 acres

Funds management of current & future
lands for 10 years

Larimer County’s internal splits are
adjusted (in red):

& Development 35%
Long Term Management 50%
Flex 15%

Cities/county split formula remains the
same as today at 58%/42%

Option #2
Allows for future acquisitions of approx.
36,000 acres

Funds management of current and  
future lands for 20 years

Larimer County’s internal splits are
adjusted (in red):

& Restoration 35%
Long Term Management
Development (moved from
Flex 15%

County share changes from 42% to
50% while city share goes down from
58% to 50%

Option #3
Allows for future acquisitions of approx.
22,500 acres

Funds management of current & future
lands for 15 years

Larimer County’s internal splits are
adjusted (in red):

In order to make this option work for
the County:

County share goes from 42% to 48%
City share goes from 58% to 52%
November ballot measure
options for renewing the
open lands tax
2013 (actual) Received by Cities
Fort Collins -               $3,814,068  
Loveland -                   $1,904,909        
Estes Park -                $309,913      
Berthoud -                   $133,751        
Wellington -                 $167,553       
Windsor -                     $124,097       
Johnstown -                  $74,128        
Timnath -                      $81,646       
Larimer Cty                   $4,777,403
Mayor Pro Tem Dave Clark emphasized
the need to focus the open lands
money on open space projects within
city limits while Mayor Gutierrez
agreed than advocated for spending
open lands money outside the city but
only as partnerships.
see video