Keep futures funds intact

The public is fortunate that certain Island County commissioners did not come up with the idea for TV’s popular “American Idol.” Instead of one overall winner there would be a bunch of winners so nobody would feel left out. Based on our political subdivisions, we would have 50 American Idols each contest period. As a result, none of them would be much good and the public would have no interest in the contest because the results wouldn’t mean anything.

Fortunately, the commissioners have no say in how American Idol is conducted. They do however control something much more important, and that is the Conservation Futures Fund. This fund derives from a small property tax collected to purchase open space, critical environmental areas and waterfront access before growth turns Whidbey and Camano islands into replicas of Mercer Island.

How those funds should be spent is the question. Divide the money up by commissioner district or some other subarea, to assure everyone gets a piece of the pie every year? Or retain it all in one pot to spend on the best proposal to preserve our disappearing natural areas?

Politics aside, the answer should be simple. The fund’s name is “Conservation,” therefore the money should go to the project that best adheres to that theme. If the tax brings in $600,000 annually, the commissioners should pick the very best environmental project to spend it on, regardless of political subdivision. All of that money might be needed to preserve an important site earmarked for development. Breaking it up into three or four separate pots would mean the possible projects would be greatly diminished. There wouldn’t be enough in any one district to purchase a waterfront lot, for example, but there would be enough to buy wetlands from a developer that he couldn’t develop anyway. The Conservation Futures Fund would be so fractured it couldn’t save anything of significance as it has in the past with the Greenbank Farm and Ala Spit, for example.

Apportioning the Conservation Futures money by district will simply mean the commissioners won’t have to make any hard choices and risk frustrating certain constituents with a pet project in mind. But it’s the wrong thing to do. Conservation is the top priority with this spending, and it should not be politicized more than it already is. The commissioners are elected to make choices, not dodge them.

A public hearing on the issue will be held Monday, June 12 at 10:45 a.m. in the Commissioners Hearing Room in the Courthouse Annex. Speak up against balkanizing Conservation Futures spending, and in favor of doing the most we can for the environment with the money available.

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