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County moves to issue $2.5 million in ‘open land’ bonds

Meeting set to discuss repeal of program

By Michael Howell

Having bumped up to the limit of the initial issuance of $2.5 million in bonds as part of the $10 million Open Land Bond Program approved by the voters in 2006, the County Commissioners agreed to issue another $2.5 million last week. A “friendly amendment” proposed by Commissioner Ron Stoltz to tie that approval to a public referendum on whether or not to continue the program after that was rebuffed by Commissioners Suzy Foss and Jeff Burrows. But a meeting was set for May 19 at 1:30 p.m. to consider placing the repeal of the Open Lands Bond Program on the public ballot in next November’s elections.

The Commissioners recently approved the use of Open Lands Bond Program funds in the establishment of conservation easements on two properties. But that commitment left them $171,000 short in the program fund, making it necessary to issue the next $2.5 million. The County’s CFO Klarysse Murphy told the Commissioners that this may be a good time to issue more bonds in the program since bond rates were at a low right now, running from 3 to 3.5% interest.

Public comment was in favor of issuing the bonds. Bob Popham, who received funding from the Open Lands Bond Program for the conservation easement on his family ranch near Corvallis, said the program was proving to be a success.

“It took a few to get on the ground and demonstrate the benefits,” said Popham. “The thing is growing in leaps and bounds. The people of the county are benefiting and seeing the benefit.”

Commissioner Stoltz said that he would support the issuance of another $2.5 million, but only if the remaining $5 million went back to the voters for approval.

Commissioner Foss said that she did not want to tie the two ideas together and said she was not comfortable with repealing a public initiative.

Commissioner Burrows said that the only thing on their agenda for the day was the issuance of another $2.5 million in bonds. He said the issue of placing the matter on the ballot again would have to be placed on a future agenda before any decision could be made.

Several members of the public commented that the two issues were separate and should be treated separately.

Stoltz agreed to let his amendment die but asked that a date be set for a discussion and decision about the ballot issue.

“I’ve had lots of citizens say they are not in the same financial situation and if it was today they wouldn’t vote for it,” said Stoltz.

Gavin Ricklefs, Director of the Bitterroot Land Trust, said that 14 different family farms and ranches have participated in the OLBP and every single one was supported unanimously. He called it a testament to the strength of the program and called it “inappropriate” to suggest that the voters didn’t know what they were doing.

Commissioner Foss responded, saying that Stoltz had not suggested that, but had only noted that many people’s financial situations had changed and that some who once supported it may not be able to do so now. But she also noted that in her two and half years as commissioner in dealing with OLBP awards, “Not one person has spoken against it.”

The issuance of the next $2.5 million was approved unanimously by the three commissioners present and the date of May 29, at 1:30 p.m., was set for a consideration of placing a repeal of the program on the November ballot.

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