Conservation district director

Vicki Carter, director of the Spokane Conservation District.

SPOKANE — The assessment the Spokane Conservation District charges landowners will increase next year.

Spokane County commissioners approved increasing the per parcel rate from $5 to $10. All county landowners pay the assessment.

“It’s become necessary for us just with the volume of work we do and the cost of the projects we do,” district director Vicki Carter said. “We have to know we’ve got stable funding.”

The conservation district has an annual budget of $1 million. The district also receives state and federal grants and awards, for a total of $6 million to $6.5 million.

The additional $5 per parcel amounts to 42 cents per month per parcel, Carter said.

“The increase was minimal compared to the impact it will have over 10 years,” she said. “That $5 increase was not just $5, it’s really more like $20 or $25 to us because we can leverage it” with grants and awards from the state and federal governments.

District projects to help landowners on Hangman Creek have gained a foothold after years of work, including the River Mile 17 project to stabilize 3,000 feet of riverbank.

The project is complete, and now neighbors are expressing interest.

“That could save tens of thousands of tons of topsoil from leaving their land and heading down Hangman Creek,” Carter said.

Unfortunately, the district did not receive further funding for the project, she said.

“You build up this rapport, this interest and desire and then we have to go back and say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have the funding,’” Carter said.

Landowners also pay an assessment based on acreage. The assessment is 10 cents per acre on more productive agricultural ground and 5 cents per acre on less productive ground, such as forested land. Those rates did not change.

State legislation passed in 1991 allowed county governments to collect a local assessment, providing conservation districts with stable funding. Spokane County’s commissioners were the first to approve an assessment, calculated at $5 per parcel and up to 10 cents per acre for different land uses. The rates have been unchanged since 1998.

In 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law revising the system to fund activities of a conservation district, allowing counties with populations of over 480,000 to charge up to $10 per parcel and 10 cents per acre.

The rule change reflects the indirect benefits of conservation across all lands, Carter said. It was an easier determination under the new rates and charges system.

Less than 1% of the state’s total budget goes to natural resource issues. Conservation districts don’t have a regulatory or enforcement capacity and are left with “the budget dust, a little bit of whatever’s left over,” she said.

Representatives have been attending town hall and city council meetings throughout the county to discuss the changes.

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