Open Space, Conservation Easement

More than 180 acres off of Trail Creek Road have been under a conservation easement through the Gallatin Valley Land Trust since 1991.

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It’s now up to Gallatin County residents to decide whether to raise taxes to fund an open space program, which is estimated to bring in roughly $20 million over a 15-year period.

Gallatin County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to ask voters to increase taxes by 4.5 mills — which would provide about $1.29 million in its first year by current mill values. The owner of a $350,000 home would see a tax increase of $21.26 a year.

If voters approve the measure, the increase would allow $1.147 million to go to the open space program in the first year. The rest of the money, about $143,000, would be used for improvements to the Regional Park.

The Gallatin County Open Lands Program began in the early 2000s with two separate voter-approved bonds totaling $20 million to finance conservation easements. That money ran out last year.

Gallatin County Treasurer Kim Buchanan said taxpayers are still paying for those bonds, which have an outstanding balance of $11 million. She said a taxpayer with a home valued at $350,000 is paying roughly $24 a year.

Advocates cited multiple reasons to put the question on the ballot: preserving the character of the valley, quality of life and the attraction of businesses. They also praised the amount of money land trusts are able to leverage through the program for conservation easements.

On Tuesday, Timothy Adams was the only person who spoke against putting the question on the ballot. He asked commissioners if they believed this was the most pressing issue in the valley and cited the high cost of living in Bozeman.

“Is it really the purpose of government to raise taxes on its residents to pay millionaires to sit on their land?” Adams said.

The commissioners, he said, ran on platforms of limited government during their election runs and should stick to those principles.

Commissioner Don Seifert said their decision was truly limited government because the county is asking the people to decide. Conservation easements, he said, have been the best tool to preserve agricultural production and the nature of the valley.

“I think this fulfills that response, and that this is truly limited government,” Seifert said.

Commissioner Joe Skinner said there are a lot of issues the county faces, and one is not more important than the other.

Commissioners also praised funding the program through a mill levy rather than a bond.

Land trust groups pushed the commission to put a bond on last November’s ballot, but the commission declined. The groups said they would pursue a citizen petition to force a vote this November, but commissioners pushed a mill levy for the June ballot to avoid competing with bonds for other projects such as a new Law and Justice Center.

A levy also doesn’t require a minimum level of voter turnout for passage and makes it more likely to pass during an off-year primary.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at

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