Our Voice: Herald recommends approving Prop. 14-7

Benton County voters have an opportunity to give county commissioners a push on future land preservation projects.

Proposition 14-7 is the framework for a Conservation Futures Fund to preserve lands in Benton County. The Conservation Futures Act was established 1971, to create a kind of savings account for key land purchases by counties to preserve habitats, recreational lands, farmlands and other important properties. Thirteen counties in Washington, including Spokane, have established such funds.

The group cheerleading the proposition is Our County Our Future, and you’ll recognize the key players from preservation efforts around the community. Having the money at the time it is needed has always been the challenge in preservation efforts. Their victories can be seen most notably with the Badger Mountain trail system, and their most recent defeat in the Amon Creek Natural Preserve.

The balance between preservation and progress is a tricky one. We advocate for personal property rights on this page often. But we also see the need as a developing region for more recreational space and the need to keep some of our natural environs intact.

The other challenge this vote faces is that it’s a tax, to be levied at $0.0625 per $1,000 of assessed value. That equates to about $12 per year for a $200,000 property. It is estimated that would bring in almost $1 million a year that could be used to buy properties from willing sellers. The tax would end after 10 years.

Money in the fund would be used for park and open space land, preserving and maintaining farm land, protecting wildlife habitat, improving and completing walking, hiking and biking and horseback trails and protecting land around rivers, creeks and lakes. A citizens’ committee would review revenue and expenditures from the fund, and make recommendations to the county commissioners who have the final say.

The vote on this proposition essentially allows Benton County residents to direct the county commissioners to make a decision. It is an advisory vote, which means even if it passes with the simple majority required, nothing happens. But commissioners would be hard pressed to ignore the will of the people, and we expect they would respond accordingly if the measure passes.

Setting aside dedicated funds for preservation is a good idea. The cost is quite bearable to county residents, and we’ve seen how much people enjoy the recreational opportunities here. The community is also positioning itself as a destination for outdoor activities, and this would play into that those efforts nicely as well.

Remember, this is an advisory vote and the final decision is in the county commissioners hands. Making these kind of decisions about the future of Benton County is just what we elected them to do.

The Tri-City Herald recommends Benton County voters approve Proposition 14-7 for a Benton County Conservation Fund.