Conservation District changes system of charges

Whidbey Island Conservation District is changing how it funds a number of its services, which are provided for free to property owners on the island.

Island County last week approved the district’s request to replace its previous special assessment system with a new system of per property and per acre rates and charges.

The changes will show up as an item on 2020 tax rolls, although the charges aren’t technically considered a tax. Conservation districts cannot impose taxes.

The money helps fund services such as natural resource planning and technical assistance, preservation of sustainable farm and forest land, outreach, education and low-impact development.

Much of the money is used to match state and federal grants as well.

Residential property owners within the district can be charged no more than $5 per parcel of land plus an additional 10 cents per acre.

There are slightly lower rates for other types of land uses, which is a change from the flat rate that the special assessment previously used.

Land types that the conservation district serves most often have higher rates.

The district is estimated to bring in about $195,000 from Whidbey residents. The money provides more stability than solely relying on grants, which can’t be guaranteed from year to year and are more limited in what they can be used for, said District Manager Matt Zupich.

The revenue collected will be comparable to what it has been in previous years, but the district decided to change because rates and charges are easier to legally defend than the special assessment, according to the district’s consultant.

The system is set to be in place for 10 years.