Money helps open spaces

Island County will have more money to maintain its open spaces if the commissioners adopt an amendment to the Conservations Futures Program.

A change in state law made this year allows counties to spend up to 15 percent of Conservation Futures revenues on maintenance and operation. Previously, the money could be used only to acquire conservation properties.

The county commissioners have set a public hearing for Monday, Oct. 17 at 9:50 a.m. in their hearings room in Coupeville to consider consider amending the county code to take advantage of the opportunity. Commissioner comments were supportive when the hearing was set at their Sept. 26 meeting.

Property owners pay a Conservation Futures tax of 6.25 cents per thousand of assessed value, with proceeds earmarked for conservation properties. In the past, the county has used the money to help purchased such Whidbey Island properties as Ala Spit, Freund Marsh, the Greenbank Farm, Double Bluff and, on Camano Island, English Boom.

However, maintaining those properties has been largely left to the Parks Department, whose director, Terri Arnold, is anxious to get some maintenance and operation money from Conservation Futures.

“This spreads the money further,” Arnold said Friday. “It spreads the revenue stream.” With the new money almost certain to be approved by the commissioners, she can use her previous revenue sources to maintain regular county parks.

This year, the county expects to receive $378,761 from the Conservations Futures tax. Fifteen percent of that would give Arnold nearly $57,000 to maintain those properties.

Arnold said one possible use is at English Boom, where the county will now have the money to install a boardwalk and perhaps hire a part-time maintenance person. In Oak Harbor, picnic tables could be purchased to situated at the Freund Marsh, for example.

“It’s a real shot in the arm,” said Arnold of the new funding source. She would like to get to work on a strategic plan for all Conservation Futures properties so needs can be prioritized.

Conservation Futures tax revenues were not spent last year, as the only project proposed, Krueger Farm in Coupeville, did not qualify. So the total available this year is $550,761.

Arnold said three projects are being considered:

l The Whidbey Camano Land Trust wants $265,000 to purchase a lot on Kristoferson Creek on Camano Island along with other easements to the creek.

l The city of Oak Harbor wants $100,000 to purchase easements across private property to complete what Arnold calls “the missing link on the waterfront trail.”

l The Parks Board of Island County has asked for approximately $400,000 to purchase two parcels totaling 50.3 acres on Hoypus Hill, adjacent to Deception Pass State Park, to conserve the land as a buffer and add an equestrian trail loop.

Arnold said another appraisal is being sought for the Hoypus Point property. No date has been set on when the commissioners will decide which, if any, of the properties will be purchased.

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