Ballots due June 5

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – On June 5, Gallatin County voters will have an opportunity to decide on a new tax that would fund open space programs. The 4.5 mill levy would raise more than $20 million over 15 years, to be used for conservation projects throughout the county.

Gallatin County commissioners unanimously voted March 6 to add the open space levy to the ballot. If approved, the owner of a $350,000 home would see a tax of $21.26 per year.

“Fundamentally this is about our high quality of life,” said Jon Catton, vice chair of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust board of directors and an advocate for conserving open lands. “We’ve all had that experience of having friends and family visiting from other parts of the country, and they say, ‘You’re lucky to live here.’

“Many voters are expressing that conserving open lands is more important to them than ever, given how fast our county is growing and changing,” he added. “We hear from many voters that they’re deeply worried about losing the things they love most about living in Gallatin County: clean water, uncluttered beauty, plenty of places to recreate with friends and family, and the fact that we have farms and ranches producing food locally, an agricultural heritage that we need to support.”

If approved by voters, funds from the 2018 open space levy would be used to acquire space for parks and trails, as well as pay for conservation easements—a process by which landowners can sell or donate their land to protect the property from development.

In 2000 and 2004, Gallatin County voters approved two $10 million bonds used to protect open spaces. Over the past 17 years, these funds were used to conserve 50,000 acres, create the 100-acre Gallatin County Regional Park, and establish the Chestnut Mountain and North Cottonwood trailheads. Locally, the Big Sky Community Park was partially funded with dollars from these bonds. However, the last of the funds for the Gallatin County Open Lands Program ran out last year.

“As we know, Gallatin County’s population is growing very fast. It’s projected that we’re going to add 12,000 people in the next three years,” said Jessie Wiese, southwest manager of Montana Land Reliance, which is partnering with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Trust for Public Land to advocate for the open space levy.

“A big part of this is matching the acceleration of growth of the valley,” she added. “We all moved here for a certain reason. I think protecting the land, parks and wildlife is an important decision for the future.”

Absentee ballots for the primary election will be mailed May 11. The Gallatin County Elections office must receive ballots by June 5 at 8 p.m. to be counted.