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Ventura County

Open-Space Issue a Taxing Question

February 05, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

A one-eighth-cent sales tax increase in Ventura County would generate about $14 million to purchase lands each year for permanent preservation, while a property assessment would raise less than half of that, a new report shows.

Ventura County supervisors could decide later this year which funding option to place on the ballot. Voters also would be asked to approve an open-space district that would acquire and protect lands from development.

A citizens advisory group Tuesday summarized options for raising the money needed to make the district work. Although a sales tax increase would generate $14 million a year, it requires two-thirds voter approval. A property assessment, by comparison, needs only 51% voter approval, but it would raise only about $6 million a year.

Supporters say an open-space district is needed to permanently preserve Ventura County farmland and rolling green vistas. It is seen as the long-term successor to growth-control laws that will begin to expire in 15 years.

Supervisors had targeted the March 2004 primary election as the likely ballot for the local tax measures. But with new taxes possibly on the way to help the state cope with record budget shortfalls, it may be the wrong time to ask local voters to approve another increase, one supervisor said Tuesday.

"I think it might have to be delayed," board Chairwoman Judy Mikels said. "By then, the public may be resistive to any more taxes -- even if they believe wholeheartedly in the cause."

Supervisor John K. Flynn, however, said he thinks the public will support a new tax. A poll taken two years ago showed strong support for a land conservation district.

"It's a matter of setting priorities," Flynn said. "And this is a high priority for the people who live here."

Don Facciano, director of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., said a sales tax is a better way to go than a property assessment. Under a benefit assessment district, only property owners would be taxed, he noted.

"Everyone wants open space," Facciano said. "A sales tax is a fairer way because everyone pays for it."

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