BoCo Open Space Dept. running up huge debt

But first: Saving the environment by living where we work. . .
(To meet space limits, a redacted version of this letter appeared in the 3-8-11 edition of the Longmont Times Call.)
Do we really believe in practicing insofar as possible the concept of living in the same community where we work?
I think Longmont is fully capable of determining its own destiny, therefore its civic leaders should not be buying so readily—both financially and philosophically—into *PLAN-Boulder County’s (People’s League for Action Now) anti-growth strategy of strangling our community with open space and irrevocable easements to kill future housing projects that might become necessary to accommodate any realistic increase in economic activity (jobs) around here.
At stake right now is the possible site for the proposed Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation park (ACE), which would create an estimated 10,000 jobs. In the race for this economic prize, according to the Daily Camera, are Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville and Loveland. Noticeably, Boulder doesn’t seem to be interested, probably because it’s out of land for housing and is already overflowing with commuter-dependent industries.
One of ACE’s qualifying requests was for the availability of an existing industrial building of 300,000 to 600,000 square feet. Another request was for a 200-to-400 acre greenfield, shovel-ready with freeway access.
Amateur economist that I am, I’d pick Loveland as the best bet. Longmont made a mistake years ago by not annexing clear out to I-25 and is now forever cut off by you-know-what, but otherwise seems well qualified. Erie has direct access and plenty of room for housing, but has been slow to develop infrastructure for its interstate frontage. Louisville faces Boulder’s end game of buildout and what space is left is ultra-expensive. Since proximity to the University of Colorado as well as the federal establishments already operating in Boulder will be of importance to ACE, Greeley seems a bit distanced from the action.
Having said all this, politics as usual will dominate the selection process. You can count on that.
Percy Conarroe
Longmont CO 80501
*PLAN-Boulder County was launched in 1959 as PLAN-Boulder by two CU professors, Al Bartlett and Bob McKelvey, now retired. This powerful behind-the-scenes anti-growth group controls politics in the city of Boulder and now its influence permeates county government. PLAN-Boulder takes credit for imposing Boulder’s famous “blue line” growth barrier but let NCAR puncture it in 1961 with a facility built on a 500-acre site on Table Mountain. Likewise, in 1964, it let in IBM (located near Niwot, Boulder annexed it by flagpole) but in 1980 drove away Systems Dev. Corp. and its potential 4,000 jobs. PLAN-Boulder County fought the expansion of nearby Superior but was strangely silent when the city of Boulder sold some of its Big Thompson water allotment to the town to spur its housing development. McKelvey has since moved to Montana but Bartlett is still active in the group.
In his response to the above letter two days later in the 3-10-11 edition of the Times-Call (my, what a quick turnaround!), Mr. Gregory Iwan, who identifies himself as an expert economist, urban planner and real estate appraiser, claims that Longmont already has 4,000 vacant residential lots platted that are “growing tumbleweeds” and, at 1.7 jobs each, those would be sufficient for ACE’s employees.
His equation conveniently ignores the housing that will also be needed to accommodate the increased service, commercial and retail job opportunities that ACE brings. I don’t know where he expects those people to live in order to be near their work place (as I suggested).
Oh, and the owners of those platted lots that are “growing tumbleweeds” do indeed contribute ad valorem taxes to help fund our schools, county and local governments, including fire and police protection. Perhaps Mr. Iwan can quote some statistics on how much his preferred government-owned open space properties pay in taxes to help fund these essential public services.
Boulder County, founded in 1861, covers roughly 485,000 acres of which 34 percent or 167,761 acres were already set aside as public land. (Source: Colorado Year Book, 1962-64.) To those 167,761 original acres add the approximate 95,000 acres purchased by Boulder County, the 45,000 acres added by the city of Boulder, and the 2,000 acres added by the city of Longmont, and the grand amount of open space acreage totals around 320,000 acres, meaning that roughly 65 percent of the land area in Boulder County is now owned by the government. Conservation easements account for only a tiny portion of the total acreage.
SWIMMING IN DEBT and the newspapers won’t report it. Boulder County, in its frenzy to buy land, has run up a debt of over a quarter-billion dollars. It uses voter-approved sales tax revenues as seed to leverage big, long-term bonded indebtedness. According to the Boulder County Finance Department, this debt totaled $267,852,665 (principal and interest payable) as of its most recent audit report of 2009. How the county commissioners could run up a debt of this magnitude under TABOR should at least be worthy of a news story.
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