Park City land bonds: 20 years without a rejection

Park City acquired the Richards Ranch along S.R. 224 using some of the proceeds of a 1998 voter-approved ballot measure that raised funding for conservation deals. Voters in Park City have overwhelmingly approved each of City Hall’s four ballot measures that raised monies for open space purposes. The $48 million ballot measure this year to fund most of the cost of the acquisition of the Treasure land in a conservation deal is, by a wide margin, the largest dollar figure of City Hall’s open space questions.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Park City voters have never rejected a ballot measure to raise funds to acquire land for conservation purposes.

But none of the previous ballot measures involved a dollar figure as large as the $48 million attached to the one voters will decide on Tuesday. It is designed to provide most of the funding for a $64 million acquisition of the Treasure land as well as a contribution to an unrelated conservation agreement in Thaynes Canyon.

And none of the previous ones were nearly as controversial as the ballot measure before voters this year.

Park City efforts to acquire land for conservation purposes date to the early 1990s, a time when there was growing concern about growth and the loss of land to development. The 1990 acquisition of the McPolin Farm is widely seen as the launch of City Hall’s open space program. Other deals followed in places like Round Valley.

By the late 1990s, though, as land prices increased and City Hall’s funding for conservation acquisitions dwindled, leaders of that era asked voters to provide an infusion of funds through Park City’s first-ever ballot measure for open space. The electorate in 1998 agreed to provide $10 million in funding, approving a bond that allowed City Hall to reinvigorate the conservation program.

The voters in Park City on Tuesday will decide a ballot measure that, by a wide margin, is the most expensive ever in the community. The $48 million figure is nearly twice as large as the one approved by voters to put toward the acquisition of Bonanza Flat in Wasatch County in 2016. The two years between the $25 million Bonanza Flat ballot measure and the Treasure decision this year is the shortest gap in the 20 years of conservation votes.

While the previous ballot measures to fund conservation deals were approved with limited resistance, the campaign this year became contentious as opponents raised issues like the $64 million price of Treasure, the potential impact on residential and commercial leases in Park City as property owners readjust rates to reflect higher taxes and whether the benefits of a conservation deal for Treasure would stretch through the community.

Voters approved the previous ballot measures by wide margins. The results:
• $10 million in 1998: 78 percent approval
• $10 million in 2002: 79 percent approval
• $20 million in 2006: 82 percent approval
• $25 million in 2016: 71 percent approval

Another ballot measure related to open space centered on an increase in a portion of the sales tax paid in Park City. That question, in 2012, passed with 59 percent of the vote. Some of the monies raised from the increase are put toward conservation deals.

One of the arguments of the supporters of the ballot measure this year centers on the retirement of previous voter-approved bonds for conservation purchases. The supporters say the retirement of the previous bonds will, over time, reduce the tax burden even if the Treasure ballot measure is approved. Some opponents, though, contend the retirement of the previous bonds would leave Park City a more affordable community if the ballot measure fails on Tuesday.


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