Court ruling forces recalibration of conservation district 'fee'

The present $5 per parcel assessment for San Juan Islands Conservation District programs in San Juan County will be raised by $.05 per acre if an ordinance under consideration by the San Juan County Council is enacted.

The district provides technical assistance and grants to landowners for conservation-related projects to promote local agriculture, improved farm and forest management practices, habitat protection and restoration. In 2012, the district provided free advice and assistance to about 80 local landowners and 3,500 acres.

Based upon a recent state Supreme Court ruling, Cary vs. Mason County, local conservation districts must impose at least part of their property assessments on a "per acre" basis rather than "per parcel". The additional nickel will raise approximately $3,000 per year, most of which will go to the county for administration fees rather than to the conservation district for land conservation programs.

The conservation district parcel fee raised about $73,000 in 2012, which represents about one-third of the district budget. The other two-thirds comes from federal and state government sources, although the recent sequester enacted by Congress may eliminate the federal contribution.

— Steve Wehrly



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