Conservation district parcel fees 'adjusted' down, and up

The word "tax" is one that neither the San Juan County Council nor the Conservation District wants to use, but former county commission John Evans didn't hesitate.

Evans used it in urging the council to adopt a revenue-neutral adjustment in property taxes to satisfy a recent state Supreme Court decision that requires land benefitting from programs to improve local farms and forestland to help pay for some of those program costs.

Earlier, the council had considered tacking on an additional five cents per acre to satisfy the court ruling, handed down in a case known as Cary vs. Mason County.

By the end of the Aug. 6 council meeting, and after an hour of public testimony lauding the "great work" of the conservation district, the council voted without dissent to decrease the district's existing "parcel fee" to $4.95, and to impose an "acreage assessment" of seven cents an acre.

That "benefitted land" represents about 76,000 of the county's 112,000 acres; the new seven-cent per acre tax will raise about $5,300. The approximate number of parcels in the county is 14,900.

The reduction of the parcel fee from $5 to $4.95 will reduce district revenue by about $800, leaving a net increase of close to $4,500.

Conservation District Manager Linda Lyshall said county administration fees will soak up some of that increase, resulting in a "small increase" for the district in 2014 and perhaps $3,000 in additional program funding in future years.

Lyshall pointed out in an e-mail that the tax collected by the district is leveraged to produce substantial funds for the county.

"In the past year we have brought into our community over $100,000 of Washington State Conservation Commission and EPA cost-share funding to landowners and community organizations," she said. "In addition, through our farm and forest planning we also help connect landowners to cost-share funding through the Natural Resource Conservation Service. This typically ranges from $25,000-$50,000 per year."


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