Conservation district wants to implement new rate system

LAKE STEVENS — The Snohomish Conservation District is seeking a change in how it collects money from property owners that would double the amount that comes in each year.

The district, which covers most of Snohomish County, hopes to expand its outreach and education efforts, manager Monte Marti said.

It provides expertise for property owners and helps them care for their land in a way that protects natural resources, habitats and water quality. District employees work with farmers on agricultural practices that are safe for streams and with homeowners on the best ways to preserve native plants in landscaping. They provide training on how to manage stormwater runoff and teach young people about the value of open spaces and farming fresh, local food.

If the district’s board of supervisors and the Snohomish County Council approve a change in how the district is funded, it expects to see more than a million dollar increase in its budget, Marti said. The conservation district currently collects a little more than a million dollars from property owners each year, which makes up about a quarter of its total budget. That would go up to about $2.4 million. Much of the district’s funding comes from grants.

The conservation district has proposed switching from an assessment system to a rate system, and wants to increase the amount it collects for certain types of properties. Currently, the district has a flat assessment. Each property owner pays $5 per parcel and 5 cents per acre. Someone who owns five acres would pay $5.25 per year, while someone who owns a quarter-acre would pay about $5.01.

Under a rate system, the biggest change would be that the per-parcel and per-acre amounts would vary based on the use of the land. The district also has proposed doubling the maximum rate, bringing it up to $10 per parcel and 10 cents per acre. That would be $10.50 a year on a 5-acre property and about $10.03 on a quarter-acre.

However, not all property owners would see an increase because the rates would vary by use, Marti said. For example, a commercial property would be charged $9.81 per parcel and 9 cents per acre, while forestland would be $2.94 per parcel and 1 cent per acre.

The other big change is that the Snohomish Conservation District would begin collecting rates from property owners within the Stillaguamish Clean Water District, Marti said. Currently, Snohomish County pays the conservation district $200,000 to provide services in the clean water district. That $200,000 would go away, and property owners in the clean water district would pay the new rates. That is where most of the expected increase in funding comes from, Marti said. There are 22,849 parcels within the Stillaguamish Clean Water District

“This increase in funding for us, we take it seriously and want to be the best stewards of public funds that we can,” Marti said.

Three public meetings are planned so people can learn more and weigh in on the proposed rate system. All are at 6:30 p.m. The first is April 3 at 2320 California St. in Everett. The second is April 4 at 154 W. Cox St. in Arlington. The third meeting is April 11 at 807 Rainier St. in Snohomish.

The conservation district board is scheduled to consider switching to a rate system during its April 18 meeting. If it votes yes, the proposal goes to the Snohomish County Council. If the council were to approve the changes by the end of this year, the new rates would take effect in 2018 and the conservation district would see a jump in funding by the end of that year, letting it increase services in 2019, Marti said

The goal is to use the funding to improve outreach to farmers and homeowners and to add more youth education, specifically focused on sustainable local food production.

“We have a huge need for that, a huge demand for those services we’re providing,” Marti said. “There’s just a lot of interest in our communities in the value of agriculture.”

For more information about the conservation district or the proposed rates, go to snohomishcd.org or email monte@snohomishcd.org.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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