The Kittitas County Conservation District is an independent public agency established in 1942 under Chapter 89.08 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) to assist landowners and operators to protect and enhance natural resources. The District serves all unincorporated areas of Kittitas County, as well as the City of Cle Elum. The incorporated cities of Kittitas, Ellensburg, South Cle Elum, and Roslyn are not included in the District’s service area at this time. An incorporated area may opt in or out of the District by resolution of their City Council at any time.
Since 2007, the District has collected a Special Assessment as allowed by Chapter 89.08.400 RCW. Special assessments are authorized to be imposed for conservation districts to fund activities and programs declared to be of special benefit to lands to conserve natural resources, including soil and water, and may be used as the basis upon which special assessments are imposed. The RCW authorizes the county legislative authority of the county in which the conservation district is located to accept the proposed assessment for a period not to exceed ten years in duration. The Kittitas Board of County Commissioners did so in 2006 for a period of 10 years beginning in 2007. This year is the final year of our Special Assessment. Read our latest annual report for the Special Assessment here.
Due to pending litigation in Washington State regarding property assessments, several conservation districts, including the Pierce, King, Snohomish, Mason, and Spokane Conservation Districts collaborated in the 2012 Legislative Session to add an alternative method of collecting local revenue called a rate or a charge. This method is described in RCW 89.08.405. A conservation district cannot impose both an assessment (89.08.400) and a rate or charge (89.08.405). An assessment is generally related to a service or improvement that adds value to a parcel of property. Alternately, a rate is a charge intended to recover the cost of public improvements, services or programs, received by or available to properties in the District, or to pay for costs to mitigate negative impacts on natural resources from those properties i.e. protection of soil and water quality, forest health, or habitat restoration. Under rates and charges, each eligible parcel is subject to a charge; there is still a cap of $5 per parcel on eligible parcels to be charged and $0.10 per acre; and, rates cannot be increased without authorization from the State Legislature, the KCCD Board of Supervisors, and the Board of County Commissioners.
The KCCD is sought to renew the local funding currently collected through an assessment. In that renewal process, the KCCD proposed to switch to rates and charges. In doing so, a rates analysis is necessary and is available here. The property owners within the KCCD service area may see a slight difference in their annual bill due to the results of this rate analysis. However, the funds will still be collected through the property tax statements sent by the County, and there will still be a maximum of $5 per parcel and $0.10 per acre.
Value of Local Funding
The addition of local funding to the KCCD budget in 2007 provided a significant level of stability as it supports the continuity of basic operations and allows KCCD to address local priorities for which grant funding is lacking. In the last several years, there have been budget crises, including shortages of state funding, threatened state goverment shutdowns and actual federal government shutdowns, as well as the loss locally of office space and utilities provided for for the KCCD for decades. Any one of these could have temporarily shutdown operations and the loss of office space could have severely reduced program delivery to landowners had the local funds not been available to bridge the gap and help us transition to a more secure situation.
Even with the local funds, the KCCD is primarily grant funded with an annual budget averaging $3 million over the last five years during which the special assessment averaged $156,000 per year or about five percent of the total budget. This particular fact may make it seem as though the local funds are unimportant, but the opposite is true. These local funds allowed the KCCD to work on resources concerns and apply for grants that may have otherwise been unavailable to local landowners. A prime example is the Firewise and Fuels Reduction programs, an area where KCCD staff supported by these local funds worked to secure more than $1.2 million grant funds for fuels reduction work and Firewise USA Community development. In 2012, the KCCD's involvement in forestry and fuels reduction, and the relationships developed with landowners, the community and partner agencies allowed the KCCD to respond quickly to a request by the Board of County Commissioners to assist with the recovery of the Taylor Bridge Fire burned area. KCCD staff worked primarily with the Washington State Conservation Commission and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to secure more than $800,000 for technical and financial assistance for landowners.
KCCD also used local funds to develop a list of landowners interested in converting from rill to sprinkler irrigation and staff then went to work to find funding to complete these projects. More than $1.3 million in cost share funding through the Department of Ecology (Yakima Basin Integrated Plan) and the Washington State Conservation Commission has been secured to fund projects on that list. Local funds will continue to be used to find funding for the nearly 4,000 acres that still remain on this list of irrigation conversion projects.
Overall, the KCCD has leveraged just over $7 in private, local, state and federal grant funds and landowner cost share for every $1 collected through the Special Assessment.