Pierce County, WA: Tax hike would fund conservation district,
help buy up development rights
CORVIN; The News Tribune
Pierce County, WA - 4/3/03 - Pierce County property owners could
pay $5 more in property taxes next year if the County Council approves
a proposal to boost farming and conservation.
Officials with the Pierce Conservation District pitched the idea
to the council's planning and environment committee during an informal
public meeting Wednesday.
The five-member district's primary duty is to help landowners and
farmers meet federal and state environmental rules. It wants the council
to assess the tax for six years beginning Jan. 1, 2004. State law
says the council can assess the tax for up to 10 years without a vote
of the people.
Under the proposal, property owners in the cities of Tacoma, University
Place, Puyallup, Fircrest, Lakewood and Steilacoom would pay $5 per
parcel annually. Property owners in unincorporated Pierce County would
pay $5 annually, plus 10 cents per acre for properties an acre or
The special assessment would add $1.3 million per year to the conservation
district's budget and leverage at least an additional $8.8 million
in federal and state grants to boost water quality, farm planning
and salmon recovery projects, said district manager Monty Mahan. The
district spends more than $800,000 in federal, state, county and city
funds a year for farm assistance and recovery programs for streams
"Some of these things are being done currently, but at a very
low level," he said. "We think it needs to be expanded."
The additional money also would enable the district to develop a program
to buy development rights to preserve farmland in Pierce County.
A 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture census showed that the nation
lost 13.7 million acres of farmland between 1992 and 1997. During
the same period, Pierce County lost 7,882 acres of farmland, or 4.3
acres a day.
Pierce County has spent public money to preserve two farms in its
history: a 48-acre farm on Anderson Island and a 12-acre farm in Edgewood.
A proposed ordinance is not on the table yet, and the County Council's
planning and environment committee took no action Wednesday. A similar
proposal by the district didn't get anywhere last year. Since then,
four new council members have taken office.
"We need to start that dialogue process again," said Councilman
Calvin Goings (D-Puyallup), chairman of the planning and environment
committee. "This is our crack at bringing ourselves up to speed"
on the issues.
Goings said council members will take formal testimony from the public
once an ordinance is proposed, possibly later this spring.
Formed in 1949, the Pierce Conservation District is a creation of
Its main job is to assist landowners who otherwise face government
penalties for degrading the environment. In some cases, people must
fix something, such as a blocked stream or a crumbling culvert. In
other cases, district officials can help small farmers reduce or eliminate
One of the district's programs - the Pierce County Stream Team - is
a largely volunteer effort. In 2000, for example, the Stream Team
recruited 427 workers for 11 projects to plant about 4,000 plants
and help fortify area streams.
The district is not a regulatory body, which makes it easier for farmers
and landowners to accept, Mahan said.
"Landowners welcome us onto their land generally," he said.
Aaron Corvin: 253-552-7058
• For more information about the Pierce Conservation District special
assessment proposal, call manager Monty Mahan, 253-845-9787, or visit