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The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners approved on Nov. 26 a 10-year system of rates and charges on parcels in unincorporated Jefferson County that will help the Jefferson County Conservation District with funding.
The conservation district, which helps landowners protect natural resources while making a living from the land, struggled financially when the state Legislature failed to pass a capital budget in 2017. For seven months, the district did not receive state funding.
“We lost 61 percent of our operating budget,” conservation district manager Al Cairns said. “It was a huge loss, especially not to get those funds retroactively. By the time the capital budget passed, we were 28 days away from closing our doors.”
The lack of funding meant a loss of two staff positions, and the conservation district was unable to plan for its annual native plant sale for 2019.
“We have a balanced budget only by virtue of not hiring back those two positions,” Cairns said. “We don’t have the staff capacity to run the plant sale.”
The annual sale is one of many services the district offers. It also provides free services such as farm and nutrient management planning, small forest management planning, workshops, tours, and educational opportunities, plus fee-based services such as soil testing.
The rates and charges approved by the commissioners will put into place a 10-year system of per-acre and per-parcel fees for land within the conservation district. That does not include the city of Port Townsend, as it is outside the bounds of the conservation district.
The annual fees differ for various types of land. For example, the per-parcel fee for agricultural land is $4.99, and the per-acre fee is $0.10. Meanwhile, the per-parcel fee for residential land is $5, while the per-acre fee is $0.10. So a single-family home on a single parcel of land that is one acre total would have an annual fee of $5.10, but a three-acre farm on a single parcel designated as agricultural land would have an annual fee of $5.29.
The fees do not surpass $5 per parcel and 8 to 10 cents per acre, and will be collected with property taxes by the county treasurer.
There are several exemptions, such as for federal and tribal trust lands and parcels where the fair market value is identified as $500 or less.
Before approving the system, county commissioners added an amendment that exempted citizens who are enrolled in the Senior/Disabled Exemption tax program.
The district’s projections showed that the projected revenue from the rates and charges will be $111,445.
At the public hearing, county commissioners heard from several members of the public, most of whom favored the fees.
“We bought this property about 10 years ago,” said Bruce Gleeman of Chimacum Valley Dairy. “It took many small steps to get to where we are today, and the conservation district has been there for us throughout the whole process, from the initial appraisal of the land’s usability for our purpose, through soil testing — even questions about herd management — they have been very supportive.”
For the conservation district, the yearly funding will help them apply for grants and continue their services.
“The rates and changes will help immensely,” Cairns said. “They threw us a lifeline.”
Cairns said the system will provide more reliable funding, and the district will be able to apply for more grants.
“It gives us a platform to do better long-range planning and budgeting,” Cairns said. “We can go after larger grant funds, where before we didn’t have the ability to match the funds.”
Cairns said the plant sale will be back in 2020.