Spokane County property owners will soon see a $5 increase in conservation district fees, after the Spokane County Commissioners voted Tuesday to increase the tax for the first time in 21 years.
Most Spokane County residents who pay property taxes have long paid a conservation assessment fee, and the amount changes based on an assessment of the value of the property’s soil. But property owners also paya $5 minimum base fee. That’s the part that changed at Tuesday’s meeting, doubling to $10.
Director of the Spokane Conservation District Vicki Carter said the district operated without asking for a fee increase for years because it has spent Spokane County taxpayer’s money well and budgeted conservatively.
“Simply put, we operate on a very frugal, shoestring budget,” she said.
She said about 190,000 of the 210,000 to 220,000 parcels in the county will be affected, but church-owned property, cemeteries, most government-owned land and the city of Deer Park are exempt from the fees. Deer Park residents don’t have to pay fees because, when the district was incorporated, the city did not opt in.
Taxpayers will see the fee increase on their bills next year.
Carter said the need for more fees is a result of changes in the state government’s priorities for how conservation fees are used.
Carter said most of the funding the Spokane Conservation District is eligible for at the state level is allocated for projects that are not a high priority for the Spokane area, such as orca conversation and fish and waterway conservation. In addition, at least one grant the district applied for didn’t come through.
Many of the conservation district’s programs are funded by grants that the district matches with local dollars, and she said it would be difficult to continue some programs if there wasn’t a fee increase.
Those programs include several land-restoration programs, such as restoring the banks of Hangman Creek, providing fire-risk assessments to property owners and advising landowners on livestock and land-preservation practices. The Spokane Conservation District also leads Vets on the Farm, a program that helps veterans transition back into civilian life and teaches them agriculture job skills.
Commissioners Mary Kuney and Al French both voted to increase the fee, while commissioner Josh Kerns voted against the increase, saying it was more than he was willing to support.
Kerns said he’s not against any of the work the conservation district does but that, by his calculation, going from $5 to $10 outpaces inflation.
“They do a lot of great things,” he said. “That was just more than I was willing to pay.”
Kuney said she’s received help from the conservation district for her land, and French said he appreciated that the district waited as long as they could before going to commissioners for more money.
“None of us like a tax increase,” French said, “but I don’t know any other programs that have been able to go this long without one.”
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