NAPA (CBS SF) — Voters throughout Napa County will vote in March on Measure K, a quarter-cent sales and use tax to preserve and maintain county parks and open space.

The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District would use the revenue to preserve watersheds, rivers, lakes, open space and wildlife habitat and maintain and improve public access to public open space.

If approved — the measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass — the tax will increase the existing sales tax in Napa, American Canyon, Calistoga, and Yountville to 8 percent, and in St. Helena to 8.25 percent.

The Napa County Taxpayers Association opposes the measure, saying it’s an unnecessary new tax that would increase funding for the Park and Open Space District tenfold and create an expanded bureaucracy.

Jack Gray, the association’s director, said that since 2002 three previous sales tax measures to protect open space have failed, and the Regional Park and Open Space District has already been doing a good job funding its operations with grants and $900,000 a year in transit occupancy taxes.

Gray said the district has identified 60 years worth of projects that need funding and Measure K would be a 15-year tax.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as a temporary tax. The district is not saying the tax will die after 15 years,” Gray said.

He said he expects a new half-cent tax will go on the ballot when the Measure K quarter-cent tax expires.

Measure K opponents also say the district has succeeded preserving open space with its current budget, and open space preservation, watershed protection and environmental issues have been properly addressed in county ordinances. Gray said Napa County has preserved 76,000 acres.

“Napa County is the most protected county in the state,” Gray said.

Measure K proponents say the $9 million in annual revenue raised will reduce wildfire risks through improved forest management and vegetation removal, protect drinking water quality, enable the county to acquire 20,000 acres of natural open spaces and wildlife habitat and protect natural land that otherwise could be lost to development.

Twenty percent of the tax revenue will go toward parks and trails in the county’s five cities and the town of Yountville, and only 3 percent will be used for administering the tax.

Proponents say more than one-third of the revenue raised will be paid for by tourists.

Supporters of Measure K include state Sen. Bill Dodd, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, Doug Parker, president and CEO of the Land Trust of Napa County, and the Napa Sierra Club.

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