Everything from sales taxes to hotel room taxes could be used to help pay for future open space and business park land in Douglas County.
Members of the county-appointed ECO2 board on Thursday unveiled a preliminary list of possible ways the community could fund a plan to create a 25-year supply of industrial lands and preserve large amounts of open space for public use.
But ECO2 members said they hoped the public would embrace funding ideas for the program better than in 2002 when previous ECO2 members had proposed a quarter-cent sales tax. ECO2 members eventually disbanded the group and dropped the sales tax idea before it was ever placed on a public ballot.
"A sales tax could still be a tough, uphill battle in this town," said Larry McElwain, a member of ECO2.
ECO2 members said that's why they thought elected leaders should consider a long list of funding ideas - including a sales tax - and perhaps use two or three different funding mechanisms rather than relying on just one.
"I think that would help people understand that this can be done, but won't be all on their backs," McElwain said.
RoxAnne Miller, chairwoman of the group, said the committee likely wouldn't recommend specific funding methods to elected leaders but would instead present them a menu of funding options. Miller also said the committee wasn't planning to ask for a specific amount of yearly funding, but would give elected leaders an opportunity to determine how much funding an open space and industrial park program deserved. Miller said she hoped a plan would be ready to present to city and county commissioners by April.
The list of funding ideas the committee reviewed Thursday, but did not vote on, included:
¢ Sales taxes: The county already has received legislative approval to go beyond the current countywide 1-cent sales tax. But any increase would have to be approved by voters.
¢ Hotel tax: City commissioners currently levy a 5 percent tax on the rates of hotel rooms. ECO2 members said an increase in the tax perhaps would be justified because open space and trail projects could draw more visitors to the county.
¢ Special assessment benefit districts: Tenants of new business parks could have a special assessment placed on their property tax bills to repay the city for infrastructure costs - such as streets and sewers - related to developing a business park. ECO2 members said they also would explore special assessments on residential property that could be used to pay for neighborhood parks and other small-scale open spaces homeowners could enjoy.
¢ Property taxes: Governments could simply pay for projects by issuing general obligation bonds and pay the bonds off through property taxes. Depending on how large the projects are, it could require an increase in the mill levy or require cuts in other government spending.
¢ Impact fees: Developers could be charged a fee to pay for open space projects. Currently developers are charged impact fees that help pay costs related to sewer and water service. Miller said the most likely use of impact fees would be to fund new neighborhood parks.
¢ Mortgage registration tax: When landowners file a new deed with the county, they currently are charged 26 cents for every $100 in property value listed on the deed. ECO2 members said an increase in that rate could be explored, but it would take special approval from the Legislature and may require voter approval.
¢ Agriculture transfer tax: This would be a new tax but similar to a mortgage registration tax. The one-time tax would be charged whenever an agricultural piece of ground was sold to be converted to a nonagricultural use.
¢ Tax increment financing: TIFs allow governments to earmark new taxes created by a specific development, such as a business park, to pay off the cost of streets, sewers and other infrastructure related to the development.