Spokane County commissioners decided Tuesday to skip a proposed $11,500 telephone survey and go straight to an $80,000 advisory ballot to find out whether taxpayers still want to buy land for conservation.
Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke thought the survey would be useful, but Commissioner Bonnie Mager thought voters had already made their wishes clear. Mager favored reinstating the “conservation futures” tax of 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value when it expires in December, but Mielke and Richard said taxpayers were promised in 2002 that they would be consulted again.
Mager said she hopes commissioners won’t add another sunset clause to the measure this time, but Richard said lack of an expiration date might reduce support. The issue was left undecided.
The money, supplemented with $4.2 million worth of grants, has been used to purchase 4,296 acres of undeveloped land as natural buffers to urban areas and passive recreation areas. Most recently, the county has acquired 390 acres of elk and moose habitat on Antoine Peak about two miles north of Trent Avenue and Barker Road.
– John Craig
Idaho senators back effort to keep copters Idaho Republicans Larry Craig and Mike Crapo are supporting a Senate proposal that would force the Pentagon to keep a helicopter rescue squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Craig and Crapo signed on Tuesday as co-sponsors to an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, introduced Monday by Washington Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. That amendment gives the Air Force an extra $4 million for the squadron and orders the military not to reassign them to another base.
The Defense Department announced plans early this year to move the 36th Rescue Flight’s four helicopters away from the U.S. Air Force Survival School, where they are used as part of flight crew training. The helicopters also are available for civilian rescues throughout the region.
– Jim Camden
Charges of starting wildfire are dropped
Charges were dropped Tuesday against a Loon Lake, Wash., woman who allegedly started a 460-acre wildfire in August 2006.
Heidi Marie Day, 23, was ruled incompetent to stand trial because she is developmentally disabled, said Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen. Authorities knew she was disabled when she was summoned to court Nov. 28, but “we didn’t know how profound it was,” Rasmussen said.
After Day’s brief testimony Tuesday, Rasmussen dismissed her first-degree reckless burning charge without prejudice, he said.
“I made the decision that it was not the right thing to do to charge this troubled and disabled person,” Rasmussen said.
The wildfire destroyed four homes and 14 outbuildings near Valley, Wash., and required 200 firefighters and aerial retardant drops. Nobody was injured.
Day allegedly started the fire by burning garbage bags outside her friend’s home six miles south of Chewelah. Day told fire investigators that she was unaware of the burning bans in effect at the time, according to court documents.
– Nick Eaton
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