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New Law Affects Spokane County's Conservation Futures Program

A pile of bills still remains on Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for his consideration.

Among the list that Inslee signed into law last week is one that will allow counties to spend more of their conservation futures tax money on maintenance and operations. That tax is authorized by taxpayers to allow counties to buy environmentally-sensitive parcels from private landowners.

Current state law limits counties with conservation futures programs to spending 15% of that fund for maintenance on the land it owns. The new law boosts that to 25%. It doesn’t change the amount of money the county raises.

Spokane County’s program has been growing; the county now owns almost eight thousand acres of fragile lands.

Rep. Mike Volz (R-Spokane) told a House committee hearing in February that, with that amount of land, Spokane County needs to divert more of its conservation futures fund to keep up with maintenance projects.

“Given the 15-percent current limit, that often precludes counties from continuing their conservation future efforts as aggressively as they wish,” Volz said.

The new law doesn’t change the amount of money the county raises for conservation futures; it simply changes the ratio of how the money can be spent.

County parks director Doug Chase says that money goes for projects such as trail development, noxious weed control, signage and improving access to the properties. He says public use of the conservation areas continues to grow.