Open Spaces

A wild rose bush grows on a plot of windswept land near Belgrade. The property owners worked with Gallatin Valley Land Trust to place a conservation easement on this portion of their land, protecting it from ever being broken up or developed.

A proposition to increase taxes in Gallatin County and give more than $20 million to the county’s open space program was easily winning voter approval Tuesday night.

According to unofficial results tabulated by county officials, the vote was 13,781 votes, 62 percent, for the proposition and 8,310 votes, 38 percent, against it.

The tax increase will impact the owner of a $350,000 home $21.26 a year. In its first year, $1.147 million will go to the open space program. The rest of the money, about $143,000, will be used for improvements to the county’s Regional Park.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust Executive Director Penelope Pierce said the land trusts in the county were pleased that residents had chosen to renew their commitment to the open space program. Pierce said the investment in open lands, clean water, local agriculture and outdoor heritage is more important than ever.

“Today’s vote on the open lands measure will help ensure we continue to enjoy our great quality of life as our community continues to grow,” Pierce said.

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

Unlike the bonds that initially paid for the program, the county will only be able to use the money in its open space account, rather than borrowing and having to pay interest on it.

Another distinction between a levy compared to a bond is that residents who own agricultural land would be assessed for the increase, whereas state law excludes ranchers and farmers from being taxed for an open space bond.

Since its creation, the program has helped dedicate more than 50,000 acres to preserving open space in the county.

Gallatin County was recently ranked No. 1 in the state for new homes constructed from 1990 to 2016 in a Headwaters Economics study titled, “Montana Losing Open Space.” During the 26-year period, the study found that 17,300 new homes were constructed.

Also in Tuesday’s election, House District 68, which includes residents just south of the Belgrade area, incumbent Bruce Grubbs was comfortably leading Ron Murray for the Republican nomination to face Seth Mangini, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Grubbs was ahead of Murray, 716 to 543 votes.

By early Wednesday morning, unofficial results for the county’s clerk and recorder position had Laura Miller Werley and Greg Metzger tied with 4,965 votes. They are competing for the Republican nomination to face Eric Semerad, who ran unopposed in the primary election as a Democrat.

Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

Reporter

Freddy Monares covers politics and county government for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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