$7 million bond will be used to preserve lands in county
VANCOUVER — Members of the Clark County Board of County Councilors voted to approve a resolution that funded 10 Conservation Futures projects and an issuance of $7 million in bonds to provide for the acquisition of the properties during the Nov. 7 council meeting.
The council members voted 4-1 in favor of approving the resolution, which acquired 10 properties and set a $7 million bond for 20 years.
Land acquisitions under the resolution are designed to preserve lands for habitat, recreation and agriculture in Clark County.
During the public hearing, Pat Lee, Legacy Lands program manager for the county, said that initially 12 properties for acquisition had been identified, and the bond had been set at $9 million. However, before the resolution could be drafted, two land owners decided to not proceed with the process, subsequently resulting in a reduction in the bond cost.
Lee said that the funding for the conservation projects comes from Conservation Futures, a property tax levy.
Council Member Julie Olson questioned whether the acquisition would increase the amount paid by taxpayers as part of the levy.
According to Lee, two cash flow estimates were made, one in which a 1 percent per year increase in the levy was implemented, and another in which the tax rate stayed the same. “It would pencil out either way,” Lee said.
Under the resolution adopted by the council, there will be no increase in the Conservation Futures levy.
During the public hearing, many citizens testified in favor of the resolution.
Kelsey Potter of the Parks Advisory Board said that boards in the past have taken similar actions to preserve land in Clark County.
“I’m encouraging you to join those boards in having the foresight to plan ahead and preserve the properties listed before you today,” Potter said.
Denise Smee, a representative for the Clark Conservation District, said that “farmland is a valuable asset to our community,” and that the resolution should be adopted because it would, in part, help protect local farmland.
Bruce Prenguber echoed Smee’s sentiment.
“I think this acquisition offers tangible, positive action to support agriculture in this county,” Prenguber said.
Friends of Clark County representative Sue Marshall said that “these projects will enhance the livability and environmental quality of our county.”
All other citizen testimony at the hearing offered similar views that the bond and acquisitions were necessary to help preserve undeveloped lands in Clark County.
After public testimony closed, four council members expressed their support for the resolution.
“Clark County is in a period of growth and transition,” Olson said, “and one of the things we have to try to do is balance how we grow.”
Council Member John Blom said that the projects will help increase the liveability, desirability and property value of the community, without increasing current taxes.
“It’s a great benefit without costing anything more to citizens,” Blom said.
Council Chair Marc Boldt said that many citizens enjoy outdoor recreation and trails, and that “those trails don’t magically happen.” The resolution will help develop trails in some areas.
Boldt also said that “we are also protecting [agricultural] land and keeping it for the future.”
The one dissenting voice was Council Member Eileen Quiring. She said that she voted against the measure in part because the county is still paying a previous bond, and she did not think it wise to add to the county’s debt.
“It’s a great program,” Quiring said, “but I really believe it’s more prudent and wiser to pay as we go.”
Council Member Jeanne Stewart voted in favor of the bond. She said that normally she would agree with Quiring, but that conserving lands in the county was an exception.
“I normally would agree right down the line with Councilor Quiring, except for this circumstance,” Stewart said. “Incurring debt is not attractive to me, however, if we don’t do this conservation now, we lose the opportunity to do it.”
The full text of the staff report and resolution as voted on by the Board of County Councilors is available on the county website at https://www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/the-grid/2017-Q3/2017-11-06.pdf.