Saturday, August 3, 2013

Conservation District Watch: The New Assessment

We'll start a series of stories with themes, and one of those themes will be the Conservation District (CD). This current post is mostly meant to clarify the misinformation about the need for a new Conservation District assessment. But before we get to that, I want to assure everyone that the petition to force an election to dissolve the District is alive. Since we last posted about the CD, we have been talking with attorneys about the wording of the petition and related issues. We expect to have petition coordinators on each of the main islands, and we're working towards having a presence at the Fair too (fingers crossed). Unlike County petitions, there is no time limit for gathering petition signatures regarding the Conservation District, so we have time. The questions surrounding the Conservation District break down into three main areas:
  • Are Conservation District elections fair, democrat, and legal? None other than the League of Women Voters came out with a report in 2011 which examined this and related topics. More about that in later posts, but please peruse the link. Moreover, in addition to the grassroots desire to possibly dissolve the Conservation District, there is a related movement building in the San Juans which is asking whether the Conservation District should be sued over their election practices. If you would like to donate to that cause, we will be able to provide a contact shortly.
  • Are Conservation Districts fulfilling their mission, and specifically, is our Conservation District fulfilling its mission? Conservation Districts conjure up images of a bygone era of black-and-white photos of farmers tilling the land and getting assistance from the local agricultural agent ... ya know, Green Acres sort of stuff. But there is a danger when we live with images that are no longer relevant. The recent behavior of the Conservation District, as evidenced by public records requests and personal accounts, suggests our Conservation District isn't your grandfather's Conservation District anymore. It's become the publicly-funded arm of the Stewardship Network and a place for public-private bureaucratic mischief. We can't let sentimentality for a bygone era distract us from the reality of the present.
  • Are Conservation Districts funded legally and are they telling the truth about recent court decisions regarding justifications for new funding? There have been reports recently in the mainstream press about the need for a funding change, so we'll give our view. Also, it appears from public records requests that our Prosecuting Attorney has been providing our Conservation District with legal advice and then subsequently invoking "attorney-client privilege" as justification for extensive redaction of emails between his office and the Conservation District. However, the Conservation District is not part of County government, and the RCW specifically says that if the Conservation Commission (and presumably Districts too) need legal advice they should turn to the State Attorney General's Office. Why is our PA giving legal advice to the CD and then claiming privilege?
Taking the last issue first, what are the facts related to the Conservation District request for more money? The Conservation District, backed by press reports in the San Juan Journal, is saying that their request for more funding is a legal mandate resulting from the State Supreme Court ruling in Carey v Mason.

That's not true.

There are two systems available for fundraising for the Conservation District, assuming the County decides it wants to fund the District at all (and we are not required to do so). We can raise money for the Conservation District via (1) a special assessment (RCW 89.08.400) or (2) a rates and charges method (RCW 89.08.405).

The court ruling in question simply held that Counties that choose the special assessment route have the choice of using (1) a uniform annual per ACRE amount, or (2) an annual flat rate per PARCEL ($5 maximum) PLUS a uniform annual rate per ACRE amount ... in other words, $5 plus ten mills, for example. Nothing binds the County to 5 cents an acre. If the County and Conservation District want to raise money via the special assessment route, they have to follow RCW 89.08.400.

But the County also could decide to use a "rates and charges" system rather than the special assessment. Under a rates and charges method, the County is allowed to impose (1) an annual per acre amount, (2) an annual per parcel amount, or (3) an annual per parcel amount plus an annual per acre amount. Notably, the rates and charges system permits consideration of which properties receive (and which do not receive) the benefit of Conservation District consulting. If the County and the Conservation District want to raise money via the rates and charges method, they have to follow RCW 89.08.405.

In fact, the current $5 per parcel CD fee could remain essentially the same if it were implemented according to the rates and charges method (RCW 89.08.405) instead of via the special assessment method (RCW 89.08.400) as it is now. However, the CD has not proposed rates and charges, they have proposed an increase to the special assessment.

In order to do its job properly, the County Council needs to be provided the full range of options available to it, not just the preferred staff outcome. The same is true for citizens. We are not mushrooms that need to be kept in the dark.


  1. I believe the TH reading of the code on the CD is essentially correct. Read it yourself: RCW 89.08.350 RCW 89.08.400 and RCW 89.08.405.

    You should read more if you have time as in the last post wherein someone studied the questionable status of FOSJ not being a lobbyist and being a legitimate non profit. What a joke that is. (They kited huge money through their top dogs to support their candidates in the last County Council election.)

    I think the County Council should propose a funding based on parcel square footage, and that math should result in about half the revenue the CD is currently getting.

    And still, we should move forward to close em down.

  2. Backtrack on the FOSJ mailer. Here FOSJ lays plans to damage the net worth of all island tax payers, and then asks for money from the same people to do so.

    One thing is for sure, FOSJ has managed to generate a large number of people who rightfully hate their guts. And now they want to generate a new batch and ask them to pay for it?

    If anyone is a member of FOSJ and reads the TH, here's a heads up; as the kids say HELLO! You need new management.

    Frankly, most wish FOSJ would just close up and go away, this "organization" has not accomplished anything of merit in many, many years.

  3. Frankly, the FOSJ basically no longer has members. It used to be kinda sorta a membership organization but that stopped after they got grilled by the IRS a few years back.

    Now, they pretty much just have donors ... contributors. You can send them a few bucks if you want, but they don't give a damn. Their real money comes from the 99 percent and from galaxies far, far away.

    They just maintain the image of a membership base let-clean-up-the-beach outfit to fool you.

    Because only a Fool would Fund the Friends.

  4. So what should I do with this mailer?
    Two thoughts come to mind. One, write "check enclosed" on the envelope and send it without a stamp.

    Enter it in the fair under "short fiction" and see if it wins a ribbon.

    I guess there is always target practice too. Put a few arrows through this badboy.

  5. Signs outside the council rooms say "Ballots due Tuesday"

    What ballots?

  6. @6:17
    Town of FH council election. AKA the Dethrone Felix election.

  7. Deny the CD Assessment of $5+ per parcel and save San juan county land owners over $75,000+ per year!

  8. Why is a sensitive environmental organization sending out so many pleas for money printed on paper? I've seen three different ones in the past few months. And the latest one seems to be leaving the famous heron behind--now there's a salmon and an orca on the mailing.