Port looks to Conservation Futures Fund

Jim Patton, executive director for the Port of Coupeville, explains the process of applying for Conservation Futures funds. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Jim Patton, executive director for the Port of Coupeville, explains the process of applying for Conservation Futures funds.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

With some negative reaction surrounding another possible levy election in November, Port of Coupeville officials are looking for alternatives to higher taxes to resolve money problems.

Port officials are looking at a way to pay off the remaining bonds that currently account for $100,000 of its $471,000 budget.

To do that, Executive Director Jim Patton said the port will look at connecting the bonds to the conservation easement that it wants to place at the farm. Then it would apply to receive money through the Island County Conservation Futures Fund in 2010. By then, the Port’s bond debt will stand at approximately $800,000.

Patton said if the port receives funds from Conservation Futures, it would eliminate the need of asking voters to approve a levy increase.

“If we had that $100,000 at our disposal, then we wouldn’t need a levy,” Patton said during a recent special port meeting, adding the burden of the bond payment is what is forcing the port to defer maintenance projects.

The port asked voters for a levy increase in the November 2008 general election. However, voters overwhelmingly rejected that proposal.

Conservation Futures is funded through a property tax collection that has paid for such things as wetlands near Deer Lagoon and the Freund Marsh Trail. The fund is also paying off approximately $1 million worth of bonds that represent the county’s portion of the Greenbank Farm purchase.

The Port of Coupeville has had financial problems in recent years. A series of maintenance projects ate up the port’s reserves and more projects need to be funded. The brackets at the fuel pier recently broke away and had to be replaced, and recent inspections found significant repairs need to be made to the Greenbank Farm’s septic system.

Patton said the idea for seeking Conservation Futures funds was planted when the port sought the state Attorney General’s opinion about the legality of a port district giving up development rights to property. That opinion stated a value had to be placed on those rights for such a deal to be legal.

The port can’t apply for Conservation Futures money in 2009. The deadline has already passed. Besides, Patton said work still needs to take place on identifying what land will be included in the conservation easement.

Port commissioners seemed encouraged about the possibility of applying for the county fund.

“I’m personally very excited. This is very clever indeed,” Commissioner Benye Weber said. “I think this is the window of opportunity we’ve been praying for.”

As for another levy, Patton said a decision on whether to try again in November doesn’t have to be made until August.

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