Commissioner Steve White blocked the initiative this summer, but there’s hope for a second chance

Gallatin County voters may have a chance to give a big long-term boost to open space in the area next year, if Gallatin Valley Land Trust and others can get enough signatures to bring the issue to the November 2018 ballot.

GVLT is working with Montana Land Reliance and the Trust for Public Land on the ballot initiative, which would lead to $20 million in bonds to fund the Gallatin County Open Lands Program.

Farms and ranches run completely different than developments. And yet they are directly affected by developments in the valley, and the increasing price of land that come with it. The conservation easements that this bond would create are voluntary-seller, voluntary-buyer scenarios that minimize government regulations and fit within free markets. This allows family farms and ranches to stay in the family, and continue the traditions found in the Gallatin Valley.

We need agriculture to remain a cornerstone of communities across Montana. But ag needs options, like open space bonds.

This August 8th meeting was packed when Steve White voted against the Open Space Bond.

Last summer, this exact same bond question was put before the Gallatin County Commissioners. But, it failed to reach the ballot that time because Commissioner White voted to block it.

“To give the vote to the voters is to raise the bar,” White said when addressing why he would not let his constituents decide this issue for themselves.

It would have taken the votes of all three commissioners to get the Open Space Bond on the ballot. Keep in mind, the resolution wouldn’t have passed the bond, or raised anyone’s taxes; it would simply have put the matter before Gallatin County voters on the November ballot. Because Steve White voted no, making the decision for the entire county, supporters of open space are now having to utilize a petition.

A citizen petition is democracy in its truest form. It is another way for citizens to get bonds that people want on the ballot when representatives like Steve White fail to do so. However, they are no easy task. In order for this petition to be successful in getting the Open Space Bond on the ballot, it requires 20 percent of registered voters’ signatures. That’s 15,097 people in Gallatin County, and all the signatures have to be gathered within the same three months.

That being said, an independent poll of county residents attitudes towards the $20 million bond was conducted this summer after White’s vote. And an overwhelming majority of respondents — 70 percent —  were in favor of passing the bond and continuing the Gallatin County Open Lands Program.

Gallatin County residents deserve to have this bond on the ballot. Gallatin County residents deserve to express their own priorities.

The Open Lands Program has been wildly successful and popular in Gallatin County. Two $10 million bonds have been passed previously. And every dollar of county money has been matched with five from federal, state, and private dollars.

The petition has not been launched yet. But we hope you all are practicing your signatures.

-Andie Creel

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