Land Bank's Prop. 1: too close to call

SanJuanJournal Nov. 8 election results. - File art
SanJuanJournal Nov. 8 election results.
— image credit: File art

The renewal of San Juan County Land Bank's principal funding source remains far from certain based on the first wave of Nov. 8 election results.

With roughly 50 percent of ballots counted in Tuesday's election, Proposition 1, which seeks voter approval on renewal of the Land Bank's 1 percent tax on local real estate sales for 12 more years, held a narrow lead of only 141 votes. A total of 11,573 people are registered to vote on countywide initiatives.

As of Tuesday's count, a total of 5,787 ballots had been tabulated, with 2,908 voters approving renewal of the tax, also known as REET, and 2,767 opposing its continuation. That's a margin of 51.2 percent in favor versus 48.8 percent against.

At this point, Tuesday's election results differ greatly from two previous elections involving the Land Bank. In 1990, voters overwhelmingly supported creation of the Land Bank and its primary funding mechanism, a 1 percent tax on the sale of local real estate, paid by the buyer, by roughly 70 percent. Nine years later, nearly 73 percent of voters approved an extension of the tax, also known as REET, for another dozen years.

More ballots are slated to be counted Wednesday, according to Auditor Milene Henley, who oversees county elections.

Created under state legislation and established by local voters in 1990, the Land Bank, a publicly owned land conservation agency, remains the only one of its kind in Washington state. It's overarching mission is to preserve and protect open space, as well as habitat and cultural resources, through the purchase of land and conservation easements on property in private ownership.

Funded largely by that 1 percent real estate excise tax, also known as REET, the Land Bank since its inception has purchased 3,580 acres of land, most of which are managed as "preserves" and allow for public access and low-impact recreation. In addition, it maintains conservation easements on 2,078 acres of land spread across 39 separate properties on seven different islands.

The enabling legislation handed down by the state allows the Land Bank, with voter approval, to collect a tax of up to 1 percent on local real estate sales, paid by the buyer, and contains a "sunset clause" that requires that excise tax to be either ratified or rejected by voters every 12 years.

If Prop. 1 is defeated, the Land Bank REET is slated to expire in 2014. If approved, it will remain in effect through 2026.

— Scott Rasmussen


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