Tri-City Herald: Conservation tax still a good idea even if rejected at the polls

True our society is dependent, even addicted, to our technology. That’s all the more reason for us to unplug.Defeat is heartbreaking, but nothing is accomplished by giving up.

Backers of a Benton County conservation tax proposal are discouraged their efforts were not successful this go-around, but we hope they can recover and continue working to protect open spaces. Their goal is a good one and their strategy was reasonable. Voters did not respond positively this time, but they might later.

It’s not time yet to wave the white flag, even though it may feel like it.

The latest election results did not show enough support for a new tax that would have paid for conservation projects in Benton County. The citizens group, Our County, Our Future, worked for months to gather momentum for the idea, but Proposition 14-7 was defeated at the polls.

It was an advisory proposal only, and was intended to help the Benton County Commissioners gauge whether they should go ahead with a new 10-year property tax that would have cost 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $12.50 annually for a $200,000 home. It was hoped it would raise about $1 million a year so the county officials could buy land and preserve it rather than see it sold for development.

This is not a new idea and has been successful in more than 13 counties in Washington state. The thought is that once land is developed, it never goes back to its pristine state. Open spaces need to be protected, yet property owners have every right to sell their land and make a profit.

These public conservation funds allow the county to buy the land and then either preserve it as is, make improvements and turn it into a park or maintain it for recreational purposes like hiking.

The latest election results from Nov. 10 show Proposition 14-7 failing with 47 percent yes votes. Benton County Commissioners wanted more support before going forward with a new tax.

However, we hope they can keep an open mind so that in the future, if public sentiment were to change, they could embrace the concept of a conservation fund.

Scott Woodward, a leader for the citizens group behind the proposal, said supporters are “exhausted” both financially and spiritually. They sent mailers, they knocked on doors, they spoke at community events and did everything they could to explain the proposal and the need to protect open spaces in the county.

We understand if they are too discouraged at the moment to think about looking ahead to another election campaign. But we hope that after some rest they can muster some energy and regroup.

A conservation tax is still a valuable idea. This just wasn’t the right time.