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Funding Mechanisms

Local governments have a few ways to raise funds for conservation programs. These include conservation futures (property taxes), real estate excise tax (on property transfers), and property taxes for flood hazard reduction.

Conservation Futures

The state Current Use Taxation law (RCW 84.34.200) provides authority for local governments to raise funds for open space preservation through purchase of easements, development rights, or outright acquisition.

Counties are authorized to levy a property tax of up to $0.0625 per $1000 assessed valuation. This levy is enacted by a vote of the legislative body. These funds may be credited to a special Conservation Futures fund and accumulated funds may then be used to acquire interest in conservation lands.

Counties applying this authority usually refer to their acquisition programs as Conservation Futures Programs. These are usually administered by county parks and recreation departments. Most have a set of criteria developed for selecting properties or participate in a community nomination process. If a landowner with land of high biodiversity value were interested in approaching the county for sale, donation, or the holding of an easement, they could contact the local parks department.

Counties in Washington with conservation futures levies supporting active preservation programs are: Clark, Ferry, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, San Juan, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, and Whatcom.  

Real Estate Excise Tax (REET)

Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) is a provision under RCW 82.46.070 (1990) which allows counties to impose a real estate excise tax on transfers of property, and the proceeds from the tax are used exclusively for fee-simple or less-than-fee acquisition and maintenance of conservation areas.

Conservation areas are defined as “land and water that has environmental, agricultural, aesthetic, cultural, scientific, scenic, or low-intensity recreational values and includes open space, wetlands, marshes, aquifer recharge areas, shoreline areas, natural areas, and other lands and waters that are important to preserve flora and fauna” (RCW 36.32.5700).

The excise tax may be initiated either by resolution of the county legislative body or by public petition. In both cases, a majority of voters in the county must approve the enactment of the tax, including a specified time period and a maximum rate. A plan for the expenditure of the funds must be prepared and adopted by the county.

San Juan County is the only county in Washington that has successfully adopted the REET. Administration of the program is conducted exclusively by the San Juan County Land Bank.  

Capital Improvement Programs

Counties can levy a property tax to pay for flood hazard reduction to water resource protection projects ranging from acquisition and restoration of wetlands and riparian systems to storm sewer systems.

Pierce County’s Rivers Improvement Program focuses Capital Improvement Program funds on acquiring and restoring 100-year floodplains to reduce maintenance costs and flood hazard. The program can help pay for larger restoration projects identified within individual basin management plans.

In King County, water resource protection efforts also include some funds for small, grass-roots projects sponsored by environmental groups or neighborhood associations.

The local public works department’s storm water or surface water management division will have information about availability, program focus, and potential for landowner stewardship. 

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