Proposed tax would help protect habitat

A proposed $5 tax on each of about 212,000 Snohomish County properties is under review by county officials.

The tax might raise $1 million a year starting in 2007 for the Snohomish Conservation District. The group restores wildlife habitat and advises farmers and other property owners on how to protect the environment.

District officials are asking for the special property tax to provide a stable stream of funding that doesn’t compete with funding for other county services. State law allows conservation districts to seek the tax. Other counties across the state charge similar per-parcel taxes.

The County Council asked County Executive Aaron Reardon to write an ordinance to implement the tax on behalf of the district. The County Council would consider the legislation next month.

That said, it is unclear if Reardon will take a position for or against the tax, said Peter Camp, who oversees land-use issues for Reardon.

“At this point, the executive has not proposed additional taxes,” Camp told the County Council on Tuesday. Drafting an ordinance “doesn’t mean he (Reardon) agrees with the legislation. He may or may not take a position.”

So Reardon “may or may not get his feet wet on this one,” County Council chairman Kirke Sievers said.

Camp said he plans to list pros and cons of the tax for the council to consider.

Reardon included $490,000 in spending for the district in his proposed 2007 budget. Reardon strongly supports the work of the district, but how it is funded isn’t up to him, Camp said.

“Really, it comes down to the council’s decision whether to continue to fund it out of the general fund or a separate assessment of $5 per parcel,” Camp said. “We don’t feel strongly about it.”

The district has a $1.3 million budget, which includes about $600,000 in state grants plus funding from the county Surface Water Management department.

If approved, a $5 tax would apply to most properties in the county, and half the money raised would come from properties within cities in the district boundaries.

Sievers said district officials should seek letters of support from mayors of cities within the boundaries.

“I get a lot of letters,” Sievers said. “Most citizens say ‘no’ to new taxes.”

The council has until the end of November to decide on the $5 tax for 2007 and notify the assessor and treasurer of the new tax.

If adopted, state law gives residents until Dec. 15 to collect signatures from 20 percent of voters in the district to try to reverse the tax, county council chief of staff John Chelminiak said.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or

Tax proposal

What’s new?

A $5 per property assessment is proposed starting in 2007 for the Snohomish Conservation District.

What is the Snohomish Conservation District?

The group coordinates restoration of wildlife and salmon habitat, advises dairy farmers on ways to protect the environment and helps rural and urban property owners in matters concerning agriculture, forestry, wetlands, wildlife and fisheries, soil and water.

Who might pay?

Owners of about 212,000 properties within the district.

Who won’t pay?

Areas of the district excluded from the proposed charge are Camano Island, Tulalip Tribal trust lands, federal lands and some other forestry lands. Also excluded are 23,000 properties in the Stillaguamish Clean Water District, which already pay a fee.

More than 19,000 other excluded properties are within the 1941 city boundaries of Everett, Edmonds, Marysville, Monroe, Index, Darrington, Gold Bar, Sultan and Granite Falls.

Areas annexed by those cities since 1941, when the conservation district was formed, are subject to the proposed assessment.

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