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Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

ECO2 considers seeking ballot question

December 6, 2001

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A November ballot question on public funding for open space and new areas for industrial development isn't a certainty, but a chamber of commerce group is closely studying the possibility.

Members of ECO2, a chamber group looking to secure a 25-year supply of open space and land for industrial development, heard from a national expert on public funding for green space Wednesday. The expert told them they shouldn't let the weakening economy slow their efforts.

"The approval rate across the country was 73 percent in the November 2001 elections," Cynthia Whiteford, regional director for The Trust for Public Land, told ECO2 members. "Even in a weakening economy and even after Sept. 11, the support still remains strong.

"I think people now are more aware of the value of land and see that it is disappearing, and there seems to be a greater recognition that we have to manage our growth better," Whiteford said.

Whiteford and two other representatives from TPL's Midwest regional office were in town to meet with area open space advocates. ECO2 members, who have considered asking commissioners to place a question seeking funds for land-procurement on the November ballot, requested a meeting with the TPL representatives.

The group never has said how much money it will ask for, and members recently have questioned whether the slowing economy makes November the right time to ask voters for dollars.

Kelvin Heck, chairman of ECO2, said Wednesday that he hopes the committee will reach a decision on whether to pursue a public election by the end of January.

If an election does become a reality, TPL may be a group that area leaders turn to for help. The national, nonprofit agency typically helps about 40 communities a year with parks and open space campaigns. The group offers scientific polling to measure voter support, researches financing options and works with leaders to develop campaign strategies.

Whiteford said TPL has never worked on an election in Kansas and has never dealt with a campaign that so closely ties together open space and economic development issues.

"To me, combining those two issues shouldn't cause a conflict but actually should make some sense to voters, but you really need to do a poll to find out," Whiteford said.

Heck said he was unsure whether ECO2 would use TPL's services but said it was good to hear the organization thought Douglas County was on the right track.

"It is reassuring to know that we're not just jumping off the deep end of the pool," Heck said.

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