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Our Voice: Conservation tax still a good idea even if rejected at the polls

Tri City Herald

November 14, 2014

True our society is dependent, even addicted, to our technology. That’s all the more reason for us to unplug. Defeat is heartbreaking, but nothing is accomplished by giving up.

Backers of a Benton County conservation tax proposal are discouraged their efforts were not successful this go-around, but we hope they can recover and continue working to protect open spaces. Their goal is a good one and their strategy was reasonable. Voters did not respond positively this time, but they might later.

It’s not time yet to wave the white flag, even though it may feel like it.

The latest election results did not show enough support for a new tax that would have paid for conservation projects in Benton County. The citizens group, Our County, Our Future, worked for months to gather momentum for the idea, but Proposition 14-7 was defeated at the polls.

It was an advisory proposal only, and was intended to help the Benton County Commissioners gauge whether they should go ahead with a new 10-year property tax that would have cost 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $12.50 annually for a $200,000 home. It was hoped it would raise about $1 million a year so the county officials could buy land and preserve it rather than see it sold for development.

This is not a new idea and has been successful in more than 13 counties in Washington state. The thought is that once land is developed, it never goes back to its pristine state. Open spaces need to be protected, yet property owners have every right to sell their land and make a profit.

These public conservation funds allow the county to buy the land and then either preserve it as is, make improvements and turn it into a park or maintain it for recreational purposes like hiking.

The latest election results from Nov. 10 show Proposition 14-7 failing with 47 percent yes votes. Benton County Commissioners wanted more support before going forward with a new tax.

However, we hope they can keep an open mind so that in the future, if public sentiment were to change, they could embrace the concept of a conservation fund.

Scott Woodward, a leader for the citizens group behind the proposal, said supporters are “exhausted” both financially and spiritually. They sent mailers, they knocked on doors, they spoke at community events and did everything they could to explain the proposal and the need to protect open spaces in the county.

We understand if they are too discouraged at the moment to think about looking ahead to another election campaign. But we hope that after some rest they can muster some energy and regroup.

A conservation tax is still a valuable idea. This just wasn’t the right time.

Our Voice: Herald recommends approving Prop. 14-7

Tri City Herald

October 10, 2014

Benton County voters have an opportunity to give county commissioners a push on future land preservation projects.

Proposition 14-7 is the framework for a Conservation Futures Fund to preserve lands in Benton County. The Conservation Futures Act was established 1971, to create a kind of savings account for key land purchases by counties to preserve habitats, recreational lands, farmlands and other important properties. Thirteen counties in Washington, including Spokane, have established such funds.

The group cheerleading the proposition is Our County Our Future, and you’ll recognize the key players from preservation efforts around the community. Having the money at the time it is needed has always been the challenge in preservation efforts. Their victories can be seen most notably with the Badger Mountain trail system, and their most recent defeat in the Amon Creek Natural Preserve.

The balance between preservation and progress is a tricky one. We advocate for personal property rights on this page often. But we also see the need as a developing region for more recreational space and the need to keep some of our natural environs intact.

The other challenge this vote faces is that it’s a tax, to be levied at $0.0625 per $1,000 of assessed value. That equates to about $12 per year for a $200,000 property. It is estimated that would bring in almost $1 million a year that could be used to buy properties from willing sellers. The tax would end after 10 years.

Money in the fund would be used for park and open space land, preserving and maintaining farm land, protecting wildlife habitat, improving and completing walking, hiking and biking and horseback trails and protecting land around rivers, creeks and lakes. A citizens’ committee would review revenue and expenditures from the fund, and make recommendations to the county commissioners who have the final say.

The vote on this proposition essentially allows Benton County residents to direct the county commissioners to make a decision. It is an advisory vote, which means even if it passes with the simple majority required, nothing happens. But commissioners would be hard pressed to ignore the will of the people, and we expect they would respond accordingly if the measure passes.

Setting aside dedicated funds for preservation is a good idea. The cost is quite bearable to county residents, and we’ve seen how much people enjoy the recreational opportunities here. The community is also positioning itself as a destination for outdoor activities, and this would play into that those efforts nicely as well.

Remember, this is an advisory vote and the final decision is in the county commissioners hands. Making these kind of decisions about the future of Benton County is just what we elected them to do.

The Tri-City Herald recommends Benton County voters approve Proposition 14-7 for a Benton County Conservation Fund.

 

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