Pitkin County commissioners will consider issuing up to $20 million for future open space acquisitions when they meet Aug. 12.
The bond issue, unanimously recommended by the Open Space and Trails Board, would fund acquisitions at a time when interest rates are at historically low levels. The debt would be repaid without affecting the tax that supports the open space program. The mill levy for open space would remain unchanged.
Open Space and Trails would like to seize the opportunity to purchase lands now, while interest rates are low and the local real estate market is really taking off, said Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails director. The bond issue is a logical move when the cost of borrowing money is much lower than the costs that would be incurred by delaying land purchases.
Now, with several large purchases already completed or in the works, the program is ready to take advantage of borrowing that voters OK’d back in 2006, according to Tennenbaum.
Real estate development pressures are escalating amid the pandemic and the Open Space staff has been busy with a spate of acquisitions. To date this year, the program has spent $6.2 million on the purchase of the Cora May mining claims and the Thompson Divide Ranch Preserve, and is poised to spend another $9 million toward the Sunfire Ranch conservation easement. It has also pledged $2 million toward the Aspen Valley Land Trust’s purchase of the Coffman Ranch.
The program is currently negotiating contracts for additional, iconic landscape conservation projects, involving properties that residents know well, though they have not yet been made public due to sensitive negotiations, Tennenbaum said.
“The magnitude of these negotiations dramatically exceeds the program’s acquisition fund balance remaining for this year – about $3.6 million – and the $7.3 million balance projected by the end of next year,” Tennenbaum said. “Now is the time to act on the bonding capacity that voters had the foresight to approve in 2006.”
County voters in 2016 reauthorized the property tax that funds Open Space and Trails through 2040. In the 2006 general election, voters authorized the county to issue up to $20 million in bonds for open space, but that borrowing has never occurred. The county’s $10 million allocation toward the $17 million purchase of Sky Mountain Park in 2010 was covered by Open Space funds over two years.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has protected more than 20,000 acres from development and now manages more than 80 miles of trails built since voters established the program in 1990.
Contact: Dale Will, Open Space and Trails Acquisition and Special Projects Director, firstname.lastname@example.org | 970-618-5708