No guarantees for awarding of conservation futures funds

The Island County Conservation Futures Program is now accepting applications from eligible organizations for acquisition projects or maintenance and operations projects.

However, Island County Commissioners Rick Hannold and Jill Johnson have made it clear it may be difficult for new organizations to secure this funding.

The commissioners discussed if there would be a 2018 award cycle for the program at a work session earlier this month.

“I have no problem with people applying, I just reserve the right to vote no,” said Hannold at the meeting.

Johnson said in an interview the fund balance for conservation futures is relatively low this year. The program is aimed at protecting and preserving threatened areas of open space such as timberlands, wetlands, habitat areas, culturally significant sites and agricultural farmlands within the county. The program is a competitive annual grant with proposed projects reviewed by a citizen advisory board and county staff.

The board decided against a 1 percent increase in the conservation futures property tax levy in December when it voted on the 2018 budget. The budget had an estimated fund balance of $460,409 on Jan. 1 for the program.

Only county government, cities, towns, special purpose districts, non-profit nature conservancy organizations and non-profit historic preservation organizations are eligible to apply for these funds.

This program has been used to purchase conservation easements, such as for the 140 acres of open space and fields at the Greenbank Farm, purchased in 2010 in partnership with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and the Port of Coupeville. Island County conservation futures funds have been used to protect over 3,200 acres either through purchasing property or purchasing a conservation easement, according to a press release.

Johnson said some of the larger projects from this program have required a lot of funding, and she wants to ensure the fund balance is high enough for those type of projects in the future.

“I don’t see any reason to not have the process if the funding’s there,” she said at the meeting. “I do want to clarify expectations, though, that I’d like to see a little higher fund balance, so it might have to be pretty special for me to get excited.”

To be considered for the 2018 funding cycle, applications for acquisition projects must be submitted to Island County General Services Administration no later than 4:30 p.m. March 16 and completed applications for maintenance and operations projects by 4:30 p.m., Feb. 28.

• For information, contact Don Mason at 360-679-7378.

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