New rate plan means less money for conservation district

Under the plan OK’d by the County Council, property owners will pay less than the district had sought.

EVERETT — The Snohomish Conservation District won’t be getting additional money next year to pay for its programs for farms, forests and back-yard gardens.

The Snohomish County Council on Wednesday approved a new rate system for the district, but at a lower level than the district and its supporters had sought. The new rate will add $1 to next year’s property-tax bills for landowners in much of the county. The district had asked for an increase of about $5.

The council vote was 3-2 in favor, but for the smaller amount.

“I’m disappointed, I guess,” conservation district manager Monte Marti said. “We clearly demonstrated support from the community through over 85 letters. We had people testify at three different public hearings at the council.”

The new system will keep the district’s budget status quo. While many property owners stand to pay an extra buck next year, the district is losing a similar amount of money for water-quality projects in north Snohomish County.

“We should be able to continue to do the things that were already in the pipeline but we won’t be able to do anything new,” Marti said. “Those will have to wait for another day.”

The district works with urban and rural landowners on improving soil conditions, water quality and wildlife habitat.

The rate new system will increase the rate most landowners pay to $6 per parcel plus six cents per acre. That would total $6.30 per year on a 5-acre property. The district had asked for $10 per parcel plus 10 cents per acre.

Some landowners would see no increase, as the rates vary for different uses.

The new rates replace a system that charged property owners a flat $5 per parcel plus 5 cents per acre. Someone who owns 5 acres would pay $5.25 per year.

That assessment has been providing more than $1 million per year. Grant dollars —federal, state, local and nonprofit — bring the district’s annual budget to about $3.5 million.

The conservation district next year will start collecting fees from about 23,000 parcels within the Stillaguamish Clean Water District. The area had been excluded because it was receiving $200,000 yearly in dedicated county funding. That’s set to go away as part of a consolidation of the county’s stormwater utilities approved earlier this year.

The two council members had different reasons for opposing the new rate.

Councilman Nate Nehring cited the rising property-tax burden to support state schools, mass transit and other government functions.

“I cannot in good conscience vote to add to that burden,” Nehring said. “For that reason, I will not be voting to support this proposal to impose a new system of rates and charges on Snohomish County residents.”

Councilwoman Stephanie Wright said she wanted to postpone any change to discuss a separate, but overlapping issue: drainage projects in the county’s urban-growth area. Wright has proposed getting rid of a county stormwater surcharge that costs homeowners in unincorporated urban areas about $32 per year.

“Down the road, I would support an increase in fee,” Wright said. “I would definitely look forward to a future conversation.”

The district covers the county’s unincorporated areas and areas that became part of cities after 1941. Three cities have annexed into the district: Arlington, Snohomish and Stanwood.

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Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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