Clallam Conservation District eyes rates, charges

Fees for property owners intended to create reliable funding

The Clallam Conservation District is looking to implement rates and charges to property owners as it looks to create a reliable stream of funding.

Joe Holtrop, the district’s executive director, told the Clallam County commissioners on April 8 that the district’s board has already passed a resolution in support of adopting a rates and charges strategy and that the district would provide a proposal to the county by Aug. 1.

If the county implements the strategy, it would be in place for a maximum of 10 years and would have standard exemptions based on income, age and disabilities.

Holtrop described the district’s mostly grant-funded budget over the past decade as a “rollercoaster” that ranges from more than $500,000 to $4 million in any given year.

The district has been cutting staffing levels since 2006. In 2006, it had five full-time equivalents (FTE) while now it has three FTE.

In 2017, the conservation district had a $2 million budget, 97 percent of which was funded through grants. Last year the district operated on a budget of $564,421.

“We need stable funding,” Holtrop said. “We’ve been surviving on grants and that hasn’t been working well for us.”

Holtrop said that historically the most reliable funding has been through the state Conservation Commission, but he expressed concerns about cuts to the program.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in July with the new biennium,” he said.

Holtrop told commissioners the conservation district’s annual operating costs are about $325,000 and that there is projected operating revenue of $220,000, creating a $105,000 shortfall.

The maximum potential revenue from rates and charges is about $250,000, he said, which would allow $145,000 to go toward underfunded programs.

He said at least $100,000 would be dedicated to working forests and farmland protection.

He said the district still needs to conduct a rate study, but the charges would be a maximum of $5 per parcel and $3 per forest landowner, he said.

He said the plan is to submit a proposal and hold a public hearing by Aug. 1. That proposal will include a budget “for all the things we’re going to do and rational for how lands are assessed.”

Holtrop’s is one of 45 conservation district in the state, 16 of which have rates and charges. Nine of the 12 conservation districts around Puget Sound use rates and charges, he said.

Holtrop spent much of the work session telling commissioners of the work the conservation district conducts to improve water quality, protect and restore habitat, and educate the public.

Since 2001 the conservation district has spent $13.8 million to complete 40 irrigation improvement projects, adding 51 miles of pipeline and saving 24 cubic feet per second in the Dungeness River.

That’s about 7,400 acre-feet per year, or enough water cover the 6,000 acres of irrigated land in the district with more than a foot of water.

“That’s where most of the funding goes,” he said.

Last year the conservation district provided technical assistance to 61 farms, worked on eight riparian restoration projects, added 520 feet of stream fencing and conducted 103 soil tests.

The conservation district also continued on its outreach and education efforts. It saw 51 participants at three horse and livestock workshops, had 164 attendees at six presentations on district programs and 400 elementary students participated in watershed education activities.

Commissioner Mark Ozias suggested the Board of County Commissioners continue the discussion during the upcoming work session Monday.

“We’re going to notch up a discussion at next week’s work session to try to understand what our goals are and to understand if one or the other of these will meet our goals of if there’s a hybrid of the two,” Ozias said.

“We can have this discussion in a way that helps provide everyone in the community with some direction of how they can be mutually supportive and accomplish the overlapping of goals.”