EDITORIAL | Conservation Futures Fund is worth saving

Under weighty public pressure, the Island County Commissioners this week voted unanimously not to temporarily hamstring a special pot of money used for land preservation.

This was a good decision and the commissioners should be congratulated for their willingness to put aside differing philosophies concerning growth and development to reach a compromise. The board also demonstrated that it does listen to the pleas of constituents, when they are loud enough.

The proposal concerned the Conservation Futures Fund, which authorizes the collection of property taxes for the purchase of land under threat of development. According to Island County code, these can include open space, wetlands, habitat conservation areas, and farm, agricultural and timber lands.

Municipalities and organizations apply for the funds, which are then reviewed by two citizen bodies: the Citizens Advisory Board and the Technical Advisory Group. Projects that make it through both are recommended to the commissioners for final approval.

This lengthy and time-tested approach has a track record of success, having roles in the preservation of lands such as Double Bluff, Greenbank Farm, Ala Spit on North Whidbey and Four Springs Preserve on Camano Island, to name just a few. These properties have come to be part of what defines Island County as destinations, and indeed, as communities. Not having them would be nearly unthinkable.

Yet, the proposal was to decrease the amount levied in 2014, use what money was received to pay off existing debt, and not accept any applications next year while reviewing the overall effectiveness of the conservation program.

Swarms of island residents lobbied against the proposal — about 100 attended the commissioners Monday evening meeting, and local newspapers received many letters to the editor protesting the measure prior to the vote.

In the end, the board agreed on a compromise. Collection would remain the same, but the 1 percent increase that seems to accompany just about every government budget these days would be forgone. Also, applications would be accepted in 2014 but the priority would be on property around military airfields, such as Outlying Field Coupeville.

Finally, the board will move forward with its original plan to take a good look at the program’s effectiveness and identify any needed changes or improvements. We believe that is both a reasonable and prudent step concerning a program that’s been running for so many years.

Every budget is scrutinized and the Conservation Futures Fund should be too. It’s called good government.

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