Transition: the time is right — 'No' on Prop. 1 | Editorial

Business as usual just won’t cut it in tough times like these.

Even for the Land Bank, whose success in preserving open space — its overarching mission — cannot be denied.

That success is woven into the landscape. Turtleback Mountain on Orcas. The scenic Westside and Limekiln preserves of San Juan. Hummel Lake and The Spit on Lopez, to name just a few prominent examples.

Still, the Land Bank’s primary funding source certainly can be denied. In fact, it was set up with just such a question like that in mind.

It’s called a “sunset clause,” and it was written into the enabling legislation — sanctioned by state law — that set the stage for creation of a publicly owned, local land conservation agency, which, 20 years later, remains the only one of its kind in Washington state. As a result, San Juan County voters get to decide every dozen years or so whether that principal funding source, an excise tax of up to 1 percent applied to local real estate sales — paid by the buyer — ought to remain in effect for 12 more years.

We believe that it should, but not at 1 percent. Therefore, we encourage voters to mark “No” on the question of Proposition 1. Here’s why.

Transition: the time is right.

The Land Bank now owns roughly 3,580 acres of land outright. Like Turtleback or Limekiln, its 31 preserves are mostly open to the public and allow for various levels of low-impact recreation, like hiking. In addition,  another 2,078 acres of land, spread across 39 properties on seven different islands, are protected by conservation easements.

Add easements and preserves together and you have an area greater in size than Moran State Park, the single-largest tract of land in the San Juans.

That’s something to be celebrated. But what next?

Would the Land Bank still be able acheive its mission, even if not at its previous pace, if that excise tax were trimmed by, let’s say by 1/2 a percent?

It still would have its Stewardship Fund, which is set aside for management of preserves and easements, generates interest income and totaled roughly $3.5 million in 2010. It would still be the yearly beneficiary of the county Conservation Futures fund, a property-tax levy that contributed nearly $270,000 to its bottom line a year ago. It would still have those 12 or so properties that were targeted for resale when purchased under what has become a dormant Conservation Buyers Program.

Is it too far fetched to think that a little more discretionary cash might find its way into the local economy if the excise tax were ratcheted down just a bit?

Because it’s not due to expire until 2014, at which time the Land Bank expects to be debt free, there is still ample time for a broad discussion about the merits of the real estate excise tax, it’s percentage, or whether it should be retired along with a hearty thanks for a job well done.

We don’t expect our position to be a popular one. But if not now, then when?


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